RecycleForce has been employing Hoosiers with criminal backgrounds since 2006. Photo courtesy of RecycleForce
RecycleForce has been employing Hoosiers with criminal backgrounds since 2006. Photo courtesy of RecycleForce
INDIANA — Andrew King found himself homeless and living under a bridge after being released from Marion County jail in 2009.

He was homeless and didn’t have a place to charge his electric monitoring bracelet, or the funds to keep up with the bills that pile up after someone gets out of jail or prison.

He said it happens all the time to former inmates.

“I spent all my time (after getting out) figuring out where I’m going to charge my GPS bracelet,” King said. “And I could never find food. I never had a problem in my past getting a job. After my conviction, no one would hire me.”

King was is in the process of parking semi-trucks at Cook Medical in Bloomington as he told his story. It’s part of his job with RecycleForce, where he’s spent the past 13 years and now serves as the director of Inventory and Quality Control.

Programs across Indiana are helping people get back on their feet after incarceration. RecycleForce isn’t the only one.

Ivy Tech Community College, the Indiana Department of Correction, numerous employers and medical providers like CareSource are also reducing recidivism.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, Indiana has 92 jails, with one in each county. The statistics from 2019 show the inmate population was more than 20,000.

EMPLOYING WORKERS WITH A CRIMINAL HISTORY

It’s not easy for people with records and felony convictions to find a job, a place to live and to move on from the past. It’s also expensive.

King was a nuclear engineer in the Navy before he spent time in prison. He said the Indiana Department of Correction offered a program where inmates could find employment after being released.

He didn’t need help writing a resume or conducting an interview, but he did need a paycheck.

“(I would tell people) I would be your best dishwasher in the world, and they said ‘No, we don’t hire felons,’” he said.

Since opening in 2006 RecycleForce has employed thousands of Hoosiers who returned to the workforce from jail. The business recycles E-waste and has recycled more than 100 million pounds since opening.

Crista Carlino, RecylceForce’s director of development and communications, said the company focuses on getting people a job as soon as they’re released from jail or prison.

RecycleForce doesn’t just offer people a paying gig, it also offers certifications for positions like forklift operation and hazardous waste cleanup.

“While they’re on the clock we also allow them to do things to work on themselves and complete oversight requirements,” Carlino said.

That means workers have time to get substance abuse counseling, get their GED and catch up on child support payments, all while being paid.

Different employers have different requirements on who they can hire and some people can’t get a job, depending on the violent nature of the crime or if they’re on an electric monitoring system.

“We see individuals incarcerated for drugs or substance abuse and they can’t even volunteer at the animal shelter because there are narcotics for euthanization of animals on site,” Carlino said.

As for getting people involved in the program, Carlino said RecycleForce works very closely with parole and probation officers to be able to find them jobs as soon as they’re released.

MORE THAN JUST EMPLOYMENT


Job placement is just part of taking care of former inmates after their release.

Medicaid provider CareSource launched in Indiana in 2017, and its leadership quickly realized many of its new members were released from incarceration.

Dr. Cameual Wright, vice president and market chief medical officer for CareSource, said that’s when CareSource jumped into action to create the Indiana re-entry program. More than 130 employers are part of it and have made a commitment to consider employing CareSource members.

“Second chance employers, they will consider hiring someone with a less than perfect background,” she said. “So that provides the opportunity for our returning citizens to become employed again or gain skills that could help them obtain economic stability.”

The group engages people who are soon to be released while they’re still behind bars.

“That is a dedicated team of individuals we have at CareSource that do nothing but help promote the successful return to the community of formerly incarcerated persons,” Wright said.

Employment is important to the overall health of people returning from incarceration, she said. The program has likely helped hundreds of people, but it’s difficult to calculate the exact number, Wright continued.

Members who’ve taken advantage have also been proven to be more likely to adhere to medical recommendations and treatments and to have stable housing, Wright said. CareSource will also help people with driver’s license services and cover up to $500 of the cost of court record expungement.

“It’s important to understand that once people have paid their debt to society many of them can be excellent employees and they deserve the option to rejoin the workforce,” Wright said.

HIGHER EDUCATION’S ROLE

Last March, the general manager of Magna Powertrain in Muncie emailed Ivy Tech’s Muncie-Henry County Chancellor Jeffrey Scott. He said it was hard to attract and maintain workers in the manufacturing business and he needed help.

That email came at the right time, as the community college was in its initial stages of figuring out a way to connect people in the area with employers. A few weeks later, leadership from Ivy Tech, Magna Powertrain, Mursix, MPP Innovation and the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce met for the first time.

The group created the Work-Matters program with the goal to reduce recidivism and offer pre-trial release employment to people in the community. Ivy Tech is working with local parole officials to get people enrolled while they’re still at the justice center.

Most people aren’t Ivy Tech students when they begin the program.

“All the folks we work with, it’s $15 per hour starting pay,” said Jennifer Gasiorek, vice chancellor for workforce partnerships and strategic communication. “We will interview, vet and work with local probation to feed the referrals.”

There’s 23 employers in the region willing to hire nonviolent offenders. As it stands there’s about 1,100 manufacturing jobs open in the area.

According to the most recent data from the Indiana Department of Correction, nearly 30% of prisoners in Henry and Delaware counties are repeat offenders. The poverty rate in Delaware County is around 20% and more than 30% in Muncie. Research cited by Ivy Tech said at least 80% of offenders who complete a degree program don’t re-offend.

The first goal is to keep these individuals busy for 90 days.

“Keep them in work and education to reduce recidivism,” Gasiorek said. “We feel like if we can keep them busy for 90 days we will see, as a result, a permanent change.”

For Scott, that perspective hits home. Before working for Ivy Tech he spent his career working in probation.

“It’s been something I’ve been involved with for quite some time,” he said. “I lost a daughter due to the opioid epidemic. I’ve been open about it. I’ve been honest about it. It’s an important message to share.”

His daughter, Brittney Scott, died in 2017. She is survived by her two children.

He said he hopes this program is something that can be localized statewide and people can see there’s value to it. The need level could be different in some places and the program may not be the same everywhere.

“Every county has a probation department, every county has a jail,” Scott said. “We’ve got people released on pre-trial release...it’s an opportunity where we can continue to make Indiana stand out.”

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