A national organization plans to announce today that Baltimore is one of 10 cities to launch an innovative program designed to help people released from prison find jobs and learn employment skills.
The National League of Cities will help the city find local employers willing to hire ex-offenders at the rate of about $6 to $8 an hour in three- to nine-month positions, said Clifford Johnson, a director at the Washington-based nonprofit organization.
The jobs would be similar to internships that businesses often offer college students, in that the temporary employment would be an educational experience for the workers that could lead to more permanent work, Johnson said.
The salaries would be paid through the city, which plans to seek money from federal, state and nonprofit sources to support the project.
"With people who are incarcerated, all too often you have a revolving door - where people come out of prison no better equipped than when they went in," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who will hold a news conference at 9:30 this morning in City Hall to announce the project.
The Open Society Institute, an international philanthropic organization funded by billionaire currency trader George Soros, and the Abell Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit created by the former publisher of The Sun, each plans to contribute about $43,000 as seed money to start a study of the project.
The money, when added to $25,000 from the city and $20,000 from the Maryland Division of Correction, will pay the salary of an employee who will plan the implementation of the program over the next two years, said Karen Sitnik, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development.
If the study looks promising and the city can find long-term financing, the program could eventually expand to become more than a $1 million-a-year project serving hundreds of former inmates annually, Sitnik said.
"This issue is absolutely critical to the city, because there are 8,500 prisoners a year coming back into the city - almost twice as many as those who graduate from high school," said Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation.
New York, Chicago and New Orleans have reported success in running similar temporary employment programs for ex-offenders, said Johnson of the National League of Cities. In February, the group advertised for applicants among municipalities that wanted to duplicate the concept.
The organization received proposals from 20 cities and picked Baltimore, along with Detroit; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Jackson, Miss.; Richmond, Calif.; San Antonio; Syracuse, N.Y.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Waco, Texas, Johnson said.
Baltimore's proposal was strong because the O'Malley administration emphasized the city's focus on improving public safety and sparking economic development, said Johnson.
The National League of Cities will provide training on how to set up the program but no money. The city must find permanent funding.