Transitional workforce and return on investment

Salem is fortunate to have a pro-business climate open for business. After spending time recently at a training session with chamber colleagues from throughout the nation, we should be thankful for our local government’s attention to the needs of business. I have personally witnessed a conscious effort to provide excellent levels of customer service by Salem City Council and city staff. Locally, I firmly believe we are headed in the right direction. At the same time, we face challenges as a community and as businesses in bridging the gap between those looking for work and available workforce opportunities. One example is those transitioning out of prisons and back into society.

According to statistics provided by Marion County, there are approximately 4,500 people on supervision who have left the prison system. Marion County also receives about 700 who are released each year from the state’s correctional facilities. This population in search of work is a critical segment when addressing the costs to businesses and taxpayers for social services.

“Over 90% of the people that are incarcerated will re-enter the community,” said Kimberly Allain, Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul Society. “The challenge is that we have not prepared ourselves as citizens for that reality.”

Allain’s position provides a daily opportunity to interact and motivate individuals returning to work environments from incarceration.

“When someone is convicted of a crime, we charge them, we send them to prison, and that’s the last thought we have of that person,” said Allain. “Research shows us that when someone first enters the prison system, we should be preparing them to re-enter the community.”

According to Allain, Oregon is seen by many states as a leader in working with prison inmates to prepare them for the transition back to society and back to work. A study conducted by the University of Cincinnati helped Oregon and other states establish “evidence-based interventions” or guidelines for strategies that work in the successful transition of inmates back to citizens. Legislation has also been passed by the state in recent years to implement these practices with inmates.

"When someone is convicted of a crime, we charge them, we send them to prison, and that’s the last thought we have of that person. Research shows us that when someone first enters the prison system, we should be preparing them to re-enter the community.”

One of the foundational components is assistance in finding individuals employment and housing. Employers are constantly in need to help released individuals reconnect. From a standpoint of return on investment, there are a number of reasons to work towards breaking the cycle of recidivism in our county. If employers can find success in putting this transitional workforce to work, we will see a reduction in crimes, reductions in property damage, lower insurance premiums, reductions in foster care and social services, reductions in mental health services and special education for abandoned children, and more taxpaying citizens to support their communities according to a recent presentation by Marion County.

For more information on breaking the cycle of crime and recidivism and for steps to get involved, contact Kimberly Allain at the St. Vincent de Paul Society; 503-364-1883 x302, email gro.melaspdvs|ylrebmiK#gro.melaspdvs|ylrebmiK.

Jason Brandt
The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce
Business News, February 2009


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