State on right path to help ex-cons find employment

You have no money, you have no transportation and you have no job. But you do have a criminal record, and you’ve been out of prison for a desperate few months.

What will you do?

For many, the answer is to fall back on what they know: burglary, robbery or drug dealing. And we know where that leads — right back to prison. This scenario is repeated all too often in Indiana, where 40 percent of ex-cons return to jail or prison within five years.

Some of these are hardened criminals who are destined to land behind bars time and again, until they do something really horrible that puts them away for the rest of their lives.

But most don’t want to go back to jail. They want to find a job, make a home, start a family and live in freedom.

Finding a job isn’t easy, though, when you have a criminal conviction on your record. Many employers won’t take even a second look at an ex-con; they just don’t want to deal with the potential fallout.

In Indiana, about 1.5 million people, including those convicted of misdemeanors, have a criminal record, according to an American Bar Association study released in 2013. That’s 23 percent of the state’s population.

Man4Man Ministries, an Anderson group that helps put men who’ve spent time in jail or prison back on their feet, is proving that — when given a second chance — most will choose the right path.

According to Bob Blume, director of Man4Man, the recidivism rate for men who spend six or more weeks in the Man4Man program is 5 percent. The rate, overall, for Madison County is 49-59 percent, Blume said.

That’s because many local businesses have found that Man4Man provides structure for men who need it, and they make good employees. One local steel working company has partnered with Man4Man so often that about a third of its workforce is composed of men who’ve been through the program.

The Indiana General Assembly’s House Judiciary Committee this summer is studying potential legislation that would reduce recidivism, which would be good not only for men and women with criminal records but also for taxpayers: fewer people returning to prison means cost savings for state and local government.

One idea is to provide tax incentives for businesses that hire those with criminal records. This would follow on the heels of other recent legislation that has expanded the ability to expunge records and a $60 million commitment made this year to community-based correction programs. Judges in Indiana also have more flexibility now in sentencing offenders who show the potential to rehabilitate.

The state seems to be moving in the right direction.

While society should be guarded from violent repeat offenders, those who have done their time deserve a second chance to become productive members of society — rather than the bane of taxpayers.