Former inmate released from Rikers to start new job. photo credit: AP

Mayor Bill de Blasio plans a new “jail to job” initiative that will provide all Rikers inmates serving sentences of a year or less with short-term employment after their release, the Associated Press reports. The job program, estimated to cost $10 million a year, will last up to eight weeks and will include hourly wages covered by the city. The initiative is expected to launch by the end of the year, with the hope to lower the city’s inmate population to the point where the city could build new, smaller jails to replace Rikers.

One of the organizations expected to partner with the city is the Fortune Society, a social service nonprofit that trains former inmates on how to land and keep jobs. Though some of the organziation’s clients drop out and drift away, many break the cycle of recidivism.

“It can be a tough sell,” Stanley Richards, an ex-convict who serves as the nonprofit’s executive vice president, said. “We’re dealing with stereotypes of the formerly incarcerated. So what we’re saying to employers is, ‘We’re concerned about your business, because we’re helping to build new lives.’”

But the plan also has its critics, including former city jails’ boss, Bernard Kerik who says any new spending on rehabilitation should go to existing behind-bars programs offering high school education and vocational training.

“The jobs plan is like giving money away and a feel-good approach that does nothing to fix the problem,” Kerik said.

Supporters of “jail to job” insist that transitional jobs, such as kitchen or construction work, are a good investment in an effort to keep former inmates out of prison. Research proves that those with employment are less likely to break the law and go back to Rikers, where the costs of housing per prisoner can top $200,000 a year.

The economics make it “in everyone’s interest to do this because otherwise they pay in the end,” said supporter Martin Horn, a Department of Correction commissioner under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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