Ex-Convict Reentry Programs Face Cuts

Darnell Joseph seasons black eyed peas at his new soul food restaurant.
Laurel Morales
February 08, 2011

FLAGSTAFF -- Each year more than 600,000 inmates are released from prison across the country, but studies show that two-thirds are re-arrested within a few years. Re-entry programs that help ex-convicts find jobs have lowered recidivism rates. But federal funding for these programs is drying up and some states buried in budget woes can’t afford to support them.

It’s George Pryer’s job to convince employers to hire ex-convicts. And he says about 6 out of 10 businesses are willing to give people a second chance.

Nationwide employment re-entry programs have had a significant impact on recidivism.

“When people get out of jail and they have a job, a place to stay, food to eat they’re not so ready to look in your back yard looking for something to take in order to make it,” Pryer says.

But he’s concerned about sustaining the funding for the program. Federal support may be cut.

In 2008 Congress passed the Second Chance Act. It provided $125 million for re-entry programs. One-time stimulus dollars have kept Flagstaff’s GENISIS-X (Growth and Empowerment Neighborhood Initiative for Strengthening the Individual Success of Ex-felons) program going. But Pryer says the money is going to run out in a few months.

“We have a few other irons in the fire,” he says. “Nothing’s come to fruition yet. As it stands the GENISIS-X program will end in August.”

At least one large policy research group is working to secure funding next year for the Second Chance Act. But that may be a challenge with the new Congress that’s on a mission to cut federal spending.

Mindy Tarlow is the CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national labor think tank.

“My fear is the cost benefit of these programs might be overshadowed by the urgency around cutting anything that’s discretionary spending,” Tarlow says.

She says re-entry programs cost less than sending someone to prison.

That’s why there’s momentum at the state level to support and even expand re-entry programs but some states like Arizona can’t see past their current budget problems.

Jennifer Dufresne manages the Flagstaff re-entry program.

“That would make the most sense to invest money to prevent people from going back to jail rather than paying for all the costs not just with that person but with the family, with the community once they do return to jail or prison,” Dufresne says.

So Dufresne’s looking to city and county agencies to step up. She hopes local leaders see stories like Darnell Joseph’s and decide to invest.

“I’m opening up a restaurant as a former felon with nothing while everyone else seems to be closing down,” Joseph says. “How could that happen? That’s only a blessing.”

Joseph served time for a drug-related charge. And when he got out the GENISIS-X program helped him open his own soul food restaurant.

He says he couldn’t have done it without its help.

“It is so necessary,” Joseph says. “People who start businesses are people who already had avenues, already had resources.”

There is a chance the Department of Labor will offer another $45 million in transitional jobs funding for the next fiscal year. If that’s approved more people like Darnell Joseph will have a better chance to work after they get out of jail.