Courtesy of Marc Pelka's Twitter feed
NAACP and Gov. Ned Lamont announce the initiative Tuesday (Courtesy of Marc Pelka’s Twitter feed)

The Connecticut NAACP and state officials are hoping to find 10,000 jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals in the next three years.

Connecticut is a pilot state for the NAACP’s national “Million Jobs” campaign to get major businesses on board with hiring former inmates who will receive training that actually leads to a job, said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP and the chair of the national NAACP Criminal Justice Committee.

“There are a lot of people dealing with addiction services, housing issues, mental health issues, but no one is dealing with the jobs issue,” Esdaile said. “The number one social program out there is a job.”

Esdaile and more than 100 business leaders and state officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont, met Tuesday to start planning the implementation of the program which they hope to launch by mid-September.

As a national NAACP board member and the chair of the organization’s Criminal Justice Committee, Esdaile volunteered to pilot the “Million Jobs” campaign in his home state.

“Community agencies are doing training, training, training, but there’s no job at the end,” Esdaile said. “We’re tired of these games.”

Having a stable job is the key to success once a formerly incarcerated individual is released, according to Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook.

“We have folks in the community looking for work,” Cook said. “Employment and housing are two keys things people need to be successful.”

But the problem is businesses are uninformed about how hard formerly incarcerated individuals work and what they have to offer, he said. “It is already proven that those who have that foundation are less likely to recidivate. The biggest challenge is finding large companies who will give them a chance.”

Cook was with representatives from some of the state’s largest companies during the meeting held at the office of Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University System. Cook envisions a program that would allow employees from companies that are willing to hire former inmates to provide training at state correction facilities before inmates are released.

“We think it would be great to bring employees inside to provide training specifically for the jobs they are looking for,” Cook said.

Cook was on hand at the meeting along with representatives from Stanley Black & Decker, Walgreens, CVS, Lyft, Electric Boat, Aetna, Turner Construction, the Connecticut Hospital Association, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale University, and nearly two dozen other companies that all have expressed interest in participating.

The group is hoping to find 10,000 jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals in the next three years. The number is derived from population figures, Esdaile said. There are about 300 million people in the United States with 3 million in Connecticut, which makes up about 1% of the country’s population. That 1% translates to 10,000 jobs for the purposes of doing the state’s part to help create one million jobs nationwide, he said.

Esdaile and the Connecticut NAACP is hoping to tap into its ties with state officials, churches, barbershops, and other community organizations to get the word out that the program will start in mid-September.

A website will list businesses that are looking for employees and people will be able to click on the link for a particular job and apply, he said. “Every time they hire someone they will notify us and put it on the website so people can see which companies are participating and how many people they have hired.”

It’s good fiscal policy on both ends, Esdaile said, adding that “recidivism is killing our state. If 10,000 people are hired, they aren’t going back to jail, which is an expense, and they are paying taxes.”

The goal is to ultimately provide training in the specific jobs needed in the state’s prisons so people will have employment lined up the minute they are released, Esdaile said.

“We can train people directly for the job rather than training that doesn’t carry a meaningful result,” he added.

Cook conceded that while the state’s prison system offers job training, there isn’t a mechanism to get people jobs when they are released. There are also barriers including a box on a job application that requires anyone with a criminal conviction to disclose their conviction.

Even those who have spent more than a decade in prison want to get their lives in order and find work when they get out, Cook said.

“Without jobs and a paycheck that allows them to get housing and take care of their families, it all starts the downward spiral again,” he added.

Lamont learned about the need for employers to hire inmates during his first prison visit.