Greater Baltimore Committee recommends initiatives to put more ex-offenders to work

With the goal of removing barriers to jobs for ex-offenders, a Baltimore business group is proposing programs to build entrepreneurial skills, incentives for employers to hire those with criminal records and the creation of a state office to ease re-entry into society after incarceration.

Those are among the wide-ranging recommendations for businesses, nonprofits and government agencies included in report released Thursday by the Greater Baltimore Committee.


The report argues that ex-offenders need to find stable work as quickly as possible to break a cycle that too often leads back to crime and prison. More than 20,000 people are imprisoned in Maryland at a cost of almost $1 billion per year, according to Justice Policy Institute figures cited in the report.

For the thousands who return to the city after prison each year, "most will return to their former neighborhoods, often with little or no employment prospects and limited job skills or training," the report said. "Some will lack stable housing options, while many face a difficult transition period as they attempt to readjust to society."


The GBC formed the Coalition for a Second Chance with experts from nonprofits, businesses, service providers, and state and local governments after the April 2015 riots drew attention to poverty and unemployment in the city's most impoverished neighborhoods.

The report "underscores the fact that increasing opportunities for returning citizens is really a win for returning citizens, a win for employers and a win for the overall economic health of the region," said Donald C. Fry, GBC president and CEO. "The business community really needs to become involved to a greater extent than it has been. … Stable employment influences whether someone is drawn back into criminal activity."

The GBC blueprint represents a long-term commitment from the group to address "what has been a complex public policy issue," Fry said. "We have to debunk the myths that are out there."

One in five job seekers in the Baltimore region reported that their criminal record is a barrier to employment, the report found.

Former inmates struggle with lack of access to jobs with family-supporting wages, unfair stereotypes, lack of transportation, decreased job skills, lack of child care and discriminatory hiring practices, the report said. Someone who lands a job paying $10 per hour or more within two months of release has just an 8 percent chance of being convicted again — a third of the probability of someone without a job.

The coalition proposed the state establish an Office of Re-entry within the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to coordinate services for inmates before release.

A "peer network" should be set up as well, the report said, staffed by ex-offenders who would help former prisoners find housing, vocational training, child care, jobs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. The report suggested the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation should coordinate with the corrections department to align prison workforce training with employers needs.

In the private sector, companies are being asked to sign the "Fair Chance Pledge," agreeing to policies that encourage considering job applicants' criminal records in the proper context and training human resources staff to consider applicants with criminal backgrounds. The Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Under Amour have signed the pledge.


The report found a lack of effective case management "inside the fence," resulting in weak connections with job placement and workforce training services outside prison walls. It said inmates are often returned to the general prison population for up to a year after completing a program that offers workforce training, financial literacy and life skills management, putting "much of the progress made during the program at risk as individuals are often forced to revert back to old habits just to survive the prison experience."

Danko Arlington Inc., a nearly century-old Park Heights-based defense manufacturer of custom casts and parts for military ships, tanks, submarines, planes and missiles, began recruiting ex-offenders about a decade ago when it faced a labor shortage as skilled tradesmen retired.

Needing more workers, Danko began hiring ex-offenders through more than a half dozen Baltimore-area nonprofit groups, which work with the job applicants to ensure they are drug-free. About a third of the company's 68 workers are ex-offenders, he said.

"We started getting into this kind of workforce hiring because when you're down and out and you need a job, you're willing to do anything," said John Danko, president of Danko Arlington. "There are a lot of misconceptions about ex-offenders.

"We've found ex-offenders to be extremely loyal and eager to learn," he said. "We don't judge anybody; we feel they've done their time and repaid their debt to society."

His company offers its workers low-interest loans for emergencies and four-day workweeks that allow for time to meet with probation officers. Employees who have completed prison-to-community transitions often become part of informal support networks to co-workers in similar situations, he said. But he said it's becoming increasingly important for workers to commit time and effort to specialized training in math skills and computer graphics that are required in more high-tech manufacturing environments.


City residents make up 10 percent of the state's population but account for more than a third of the admissions to Maryland's prisons, the GBC report found. Five communities with the highest rates of incarceration include Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, southern Park Heights, Greater Rosemont, Southwest Baltimore and Clifton-Berea.

The report noted that a number of programs run by nonprofit groups and government agencies help with the re-entry process, such as The Living Classrooms Foundation's Project SERVE, which starts working with inmates and continues with on-the-job training at community revitalization projects upon release.

More than 640,000 people return from prison each year in the U.S., including about 10,000 annually in Baltimore, said Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, which is co-hosting an all day conference Thursday on prisoner re-entry and criminal justice at the University of Baltimore.

"Some arrive into prison with low literacy skills to begin with and we're all of a sudden shocked when the recidivism rate is high when they get out," Robinson said.

He said prisoners who learn a trade should be able to apply educational credits to jobs or licensing on the outside.

"Moving in that direction is important," as 95 percent of the prison population will be released at some point, he said.