This article from the New York Times is excellent and real world job training in prison is a great idea as what has traditionally been prison vocational training is not real good.
The problem, of course, is that no matter how many services are provided to criminals, without a true conversion from the criminal life to a communal life, rehabilitation is, at best, temporary and incomplete.
I completed a vocational course in prison for dry cleaning and did get a job in a dry cleaners when released in the 1960s, but soon resumed my criminal ways.
An excerpt from the Times article.
ST. LOUIS — Rick Plowman’s business, installing suspended ceilings in offices, schools and hotels, could use new blood. But hiring is tough, he tells the man sitting in his office. The 20-somethings he sees haven’t had the work ethic, haven’t had the hustle.
“I have a hard time hiring people with that drive,” he says. “I go through a lot of employees that don’t have that drive.”
The man listening, Scott Anders, is a federal probation officer — and he spots the opening he came for: He pitches Mr. Plowman on the notion of hiring more ex-cons.
“What we really want is just for them to have an opportunity to interview with you,” Mr. Anders says.
Mr. Plowman isn’t sure that’s a good idea. What about his company’s truckloads of expensive construction tools, he wonders aloud. You send the new hire out with that truck, and “Your initial instinct is, ‘Is that coming back to me?’” Mr. Plowman says. “That’s unfortunate you think that. But that’s the fact.”
Mr. Anders knows this dance well. He is the architect of one of the most ambitious jobs-for-felons program in the federal courts system.
With significant gains in two crucial measurements — number of those employed and of those who stay out of trouble while under supervision — the Eastern District of Missouri’s program has served as a model for state and federal prisoner re-entry programs nationwide. Its mantra is that hiring people with criminal records can be good for business. That is a tough sell.
Mr. Anders is on the front lines of a fundamental challenge within the federal criminal system: the struggle to reintegrate former prisoners into society. When released prisoners can’t find work, it contributes to a costly, negative social and economic cycle of recidivism, crime, and ultimately perhaps a return to imprisonment, all at the expense of taxpayers and communities.
Prison-to-work programs over all are “desperately inadequate,” said Devah Pager, a Harvard sociologist. “At the moment, there’s very little systematic provision of assistance to match ex-offenders with jobs at release,” said Ms. Pager, whose research focuses on the barriers that race and criminal records pose in the workplace. The Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, in a report commissioned by Congress that was released in January, said it was “surprised and alarmed” by the system’s failures to curb recidivism with effective re-entry programs, particularly in employment.
The Bureau of Prisons responded with vows to improve. A longtime prison-reform advocate, Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union, said the deficiencies extend beyond teaching skills to perform particular jobs.
To make prisoners employable, prisons need an injection of real-world business smarts in their programs, said Mr. Nolan, a former California lawmaker who served a federal prison sentence on corruption charges. That means focusing on the jobs that are in demand on the outside.
And it requires teaching prisoners to think of themselves as employees.
“It’s getting up on time, cleaning up, showing up when you’re supposed to, putting in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, not pilfering from the cash drawer or the supply room — you know, the basics,” Mr. Nolan said. Making matters more complicated, often the ex-prisoners are young people “who have never had an adult in their life that had a regular job and that they could emulate.”
The numbers are daunting. The National Employment Law Project’s “conservative estimate” is that 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record. Each year nearly 700,000 people emerge from prison. More than half of them will boomerang back within three years without having found legal employment.