DENVER – Colorado is putting $1.1 million toward a program to help reduce the recidivism rate in the state and improve employment and reentry programs for people getting out of prison, officials announced Tuesday.
The state Department of Law is putting the grant money toward the Department of Corrections to both help expand a network of businesses that would be interested in hiring former prisoners and to help former prisoners with new job skills, housing, mental health support and more.
The DOC will get a three-year, $900,000 grant to work with the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership and other organizations to build out the network of businesses willing to hire the former prisoners and to train them on how to best tailor their practices for hiring.
The other $200,000 will go to the DOC to help other community organizations that will help with reentry for the former prisoners.
Officials with the state and various organizations that are involved in the program its planning said the grant money would help improve and expand upon existing programs that are already training people while they are still incarcerated on job and social skills and would hopefully be a model for the nation.
About half of prisoners in Colorado return to prison within three years of their release, and people on parole in Colorado are experiencing an unemployment rate of 27%, officials said, adding that they hoped the program would help reduce both rates.
A report from the Department of Law released Tuesday alongside the announcement says there are about 15,000 people in Colorado prisons each year and about 8,500 who leave prison annually.
“When these individuals obtain stable, career-building jobs and successfully meet their own and their family’s basic needs, our communities become safer, families grow stronger, and all Coloradans benefit from a more dynamic economy,” the report says in its conclusion.
The DOC and the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership are already partners through the state’s Work and Gain Education and Employment Skills (WAGEES) program, which along with other organizations works on reentry for prisoners, with the LCCL providing oversight and translation services between the state and other organizations.
“Colorado continues to demonstrate its innovation in reimagining effective reentry through its community reinvestment initiatives,” said LCCL Deputy Executive Director Richard Morales. “…This initiative builds on the collective strengths of the non-profit, public, and private sectors and we applaud Attorney General Weiser for his leadership and support.”
Officials said the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce would be involved in the process to find more businesses willing to work within the program so it can create what the state calls a “prison-to-employment pathway” – which several organization leaders said was key to helping people get jobs when leaving prison and staying out of the system.
“This is going to help build up a fair opportunity ecosystem that can be a model for the U.S.,” Weiser said in a news conference announcing the program. Drew Patterson, who owns Buena Vista-based Basic Industries and has been hiring former prisoners, said existing programs have been “a huge thing for me personally, amazing for our company, and given me more passion and drive on how to grow the business.”
Hassan Latif, the founder and executive director of the Second Chance Center who also spent nearly 18 years in prison, spoke both at the news conference and in an interview afterward about his own struggles with reentry and what he sees when people getting out of prison come to the Second Chance Center.
“My transition was slow, but when I was allowed to reach that point in the program to actually go out and look for work, it was challenging. I had a big gap in my resume. I had a record of conviction that wasn’t inviting to an employer,” Latif said. “…That’s not uncommon at all. We have people who show up at Second Chance Center at least once a week with all their belonging in the clear, see-through garbage bag and will release the night before with nowhere to go.”
He said Coloradans should know that having prisoners released without a safety net is not a realistic formula and that he hoped the program would help do more to lower the recidivism rate and change the thinking among businesses about hiring former prisoners or parolees.
“I’m just so thrilled that this particular initiative is going to invite others who maybe haven’t had that experience of hiring one of our folks and finding them to be a really good, viable employee,” he said.