Employers Learning Benefits of Hiring Ex-Convicts in Iowa

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MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa -- The Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville will be hosting a job fair of sorts Wednesday. Gov. Kim Reynolds is inviting employers from around the state to learn more about hiring ex-convicts.

Iowa's unemployment rate remains at 2.5 percent. A rate that low means many businesses need to think outside the box in order to find workers, that might include looking in some unlikely places such as prisons.

“We have roughly 5,000 that get out every year. We have 30,000 on parole or on probation,” Deputy Director of Iowa Workforce Development, Ryan West said. “So it’s a big group of folks and anytime we can get them employed, to help employers, it’s good for the state of Iowa, it’s good for the economy and it's a public safety issue quite honestly too.”

Iowa Workforce Development is teaming up with the Iowa Department of Corrections to try and fix both of their problems with one solution. Not only do Iowa's businesses need employees, but the Department of Corrections says those formerly incarcerated individuals who do get jobs are less likely to engage in criminal activity again.

“What we know through the research is that when you get employment, you get tied to more pro-social, more conventional society, which leads to a pathway of desistance. So the research tells us if people are tied to their community, they’re less likely to behave in offending behavior,” Director of Corrections, Beth Skinner said.

However, sometimes those red flags during background checks deter employers from hiring ex-convicts. That's why they hope this employer re-entry roundtable will show those hiring that some of the best-skilled workers are those coming out of prison.

“A lot for them go through certification programs. Whether it be welding or plumbing. They’re also doing skilled trades in Iowa Prison Industries. They’re working with their workforce advisors in their prisons, getting prepared to come out. They’re getting a lot of not only hard skills but soft skills as well,” Skinner said.

According to an American Civil Liberties Union report, Iowa's prison population has more than tripled over the last three decades. This leaves facilities overbooked and the government's pocketbook overspent. That's why the Department of Corrections invests in certification programs so incarcerated individuals can learn those skilled trades. Now the key is getting employers to take a chance on someone with a felony.

“You know part of this whole process of hiring someone who’s coming out of the system is you have to kind of look beyond just the job you have to want to help the individual. Because a lot of them need help,” West said.

There are even more incentives to hire those formerly incarcerated. Iowa offers some tax credits. There are also federal bonding and federal tax credits that employers can apply for.

The roundtable will be held at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. It goes from 8 a.m. - 12 p.m.

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