Court Council Urges City to Hire Ex-Offenders

Barrington M. Salmon | 11/22/2011, 1:50 a.m.

Would Increase Employment and Lower Crime

When James LeBlanc was released from prison in 2007, his having spent time behind bars severely diminished the prospect of him finding and securing a job.

"It was a frustrating job search because there was no pipeline to ex-offenders or friendly jobs," the native Washingtonian said. "I was sent to job fairs which are cattle calls. And I'd give out resumes and never heard back from anyone. I pounded the pavement and got a job at Starbucks."

Today, he is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies with a concentration in counseling and psychology, and volunteers with, and is a program coordinator at The Reentry Network, a non-profit that provides a range of services to ex-offenders.

LeBlanc, 42, is one of the lucky ones.

There are 70,000 ex-offenders living in the District and every year, 8,000 more men and women are released into the community. Most times, ex-offenders won't get a second look from an employer if they ticked the box on an application indicating they have been convicted of a crime. At the same time, there are at least 700,000 jobs available in the District on any given day. While no one is suggesting that the formerly incarcerated would come with the skills and knowledge to fill all these positions, there is a realization that a potentially valuable pool of talent and expertise has laid fallow.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Council for Court Excellence (CCE) held a press conference at the downtown headquarters of the DC Chamber of Commerce in Northwest to share the findings of a major two-year study. The research centered on how the District can more fully utilize an untapped employment source.

The study detailed the tremendous obstacles facing District residents with a criminal record. The report, titled, Unlocking Employment Opportunity for Previously Incarcerated Persons in the District of Columbia, provides a number of practical and inexpensive solutions to a critical problem in the city. CCE conducted surveys and in-depth interviews with 550 District residents who spent time in a prison or a jail and a diverse group of nearly 20 employers as well as representatives of D.C. business associations. Among the findings is the fact that 80 percent of the businesses surveyed said they do not have a policy in place to hire individuals with a criminal record and rely instead, on application forms that ask about criminal history.

Among the key findings: 46 percent of ex-offenders surveyed said they were unemployed; 80 percent said they were asked all the time about their criminal records; and 77 percent of responders said they received no assistance from "anyone at the facility" in helping them find a job.

"In D.C., a criminal record is an enormous impediment," said June Kress, Ph.D, CCE's executive director. "There is little prospect of finding steady work which is a threat to Washington's long-term economic health. Half of the 8,000 (ex-offenders) is likely to return to jail in three years. Joblessness among the previously incarcerated is a major contributor to high unemployment in the District's poorest neighborhoods, threatening the city's long-term economic health and public safety."