HIRE Makes Major Impact on Lives, Indiana Economy

By Jennifer A. Sery, OWDS-I/GCDF, Northern HIRE Regional Program Director, Department of Workforce Development

Helping ex-offenders become employed helps not only them, but benefits all Indiana citizens. The Hoosier Initiative for Re-Entry (HIRE) program has had a tremendous impact in just five years of existence.

Ex-offenders are defined as people who have committed a crime, served time, and paid their debts to society. At an incredible rate, Indiana prisons release more than 20,000 ex-offenders each year. Over one-third returns to prison within three years and of these, if unemployed, were 60 percent more likely to return to prison. In addition, the state is affected. The estimated incarceration cost to taxpayers is $20,000 a year per inmate; while the average time served is 7.8 years in Indiana. Understanding this, the future for these individuals, their eventual employers, and their neighbors, friends and family has become promising thanks to an interactive program offered by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

HIRE is just one of the several important programs offered by DWD, but is integral to our state given the increasing job retention rates for ex-offenders since its inception. The program is a cooperative effort between DWD, the Department of Correction, public safety community and Hoosier employers.

HIRE originated in 2012 with just 300 employers, 700 jobs, and a retention rate of 78 percent. Since then, it has grown to 861 employers, 1,415 jobs, a retention rate of 95 percent, and an average wage of $10.01 per hour. HIRE’s collective goal is to help establish rehabilitated, trained and determined clients, and introduce them back into the workforce. It achieves this goal by creating relationships among clients, DWD WorkOne centers, nonprofit organizations, and local law enforcement agencies.

In order to ensure the highest quality employee for area businesses, each candidate goes through a rigorous screening process. To qualify, candidates must have displayed a positive record of accomplishment, been identified as low or medium risk to re-offend by IDOC, not been a maximum-security offender or serious incarceration violations within the past year, or have any known gang affiliations.

After meeting these qualifications, each candidate must have an updated and active resume on IndianaCareerConnect.com, a free website offered by DWD dedicated to connecting Indiana’s employers and jobseekers. Evaluators familiarize themselves with their clients and learn their skills and qualities that will achieve success for an organization. During this process, each client’s motivation, behavioral skills, and workplace aptitude are assessed.

When the selection process is completed, the members of the program must receive in-depth training that involves employment assessments, financial literacy and budgeting, computer and digital literacy, conflict resolution, resume development, interviewing and job application assistance.

Specifically, the training is designed to meet core objectives. The objective of the assessment tests is for participants to determine where their occupations skills and interests lie. Doing this, ex-offenders can find the best job that suits their individual interests and needs. Over 51 percent of graduates find meaningful work in the areas of manufacturing and construction respectively. In fact, most of the areas that graduates of the program choose to work in are industries that contain some of Indiana’s most in-demand jobs.

Keeping up with the digital age, participants in the program also learn digital literacy. Digital literacy is the being able to comprehend and operate digital technology. Training demonstrates how to use a computer, how to be safe using the internet, and acquiring knowledge about the hardware of a computer. With this type of digital literacy, graduates can easily integrate within a variety of innovative companies and work cultures.

Another noteworthy training objective is clients learning conflict resolution through participation in a workshop. Participants learn how to recognize conflict by keeping an open mind and understanding another person’s point of view. They learn the different types of resolution styles and how to react to a variety of real-life scenarios utilizing the eight steps of conflict resolution. Through this workshop, ex-offenders can better control their emotions, keep themselves in a safe environment, and find responsible and ethical solutions. Not only can members of the program learn conflict resolution in the work place, but they can also find great solutions to their own personal lives which can prevent offenders from returning to prison.

Recognizing the rigorous selection process and the invaluable lessons learned within the HIRE program, employers have many benefits by joining the program. Employers who hire an ex-offender are eligible to qualify for a Work Opportunities Tax Credit (WOTC). This can be used for a tax credit of up to $9,600 per eligible employee. Another incentive for joining the program is entrance into the Federal Bonding Program. The Federal Bonding Program provides theft insurance that reduces the risk of the employer by acting as a safeguard in case a deceitful action or theft occurs. The bond is free of charge, requires no deductible, and compensates the employer for any loss. Bonds are issued in $5,000 increments. The coverage goes up to $25,000 per at-risk employee. Bond coverage begins the day the new employee begins working and lasts six months. Another benefit is wage assistance that is available for businesses and qualified applicants. Most importantly, employers gain a responsible, educated and determined employee ready to take any challenge. Wage assistance is available for businesses and qualified applicants.

Hoosiers have a moral and ethical responsibility to understand and lift up one another in their respective communities. More than 70 percent of released inmates are parents. Each time an ex-offender is given a job opportunity; it uplifts a child in our community. Children of these ex-offenders are most likely to be in the lowest five percent of income earners, usually obtain similar or less education than their parents, and are more likely to commit crimes than children of non-offenders. By training, the members of the HIRE program are able to become role models not only for their children, but also other people’s children and adults who are in similar situations.

From an economic perspective, $4 million a year is saved on average per 500 inmates that are hired. Furthermore, $24.6 million in net wages are received by new hires, $415,918.94 in taxes are paid on wages, and $28.8 million in prison costs were mitigated.

Ex-offenders are people who deserve a second chance. HIRE offers this opportunity to them by challenging society’s assumption and by offering rigorous training with relevant materials that affect Indiana’s families, neighbors and friends. Employers have a unique opportunity to hire dedicated, qualified individuals ready to work in any environment. Each company that has previously participated or has continued participation in the HIRE program has also demonstrated their commitment for inclusion and diversity, accessibility and education.

Hoosier communities are impacted through HIRE by effecting change in generations by allowing children to be raised by positive role models who took a wrong turn in life, but now are back on track to successfully breaking the chain of poverty and crime.

More information:
* The HIRE program celebrated their 5th year at an anniversary celebration held at the State House earlier this month. View the news release here: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/INDWD/bulletins/1c1e9d6

* The one-sheet What is HIRE? informational handout can be downloaded here.

* View the 2016 HIRE program recap here.