HARTFORD, CT – After visiting Cheshire Correctional Institution in February, Gov. Ned Lamont vowed to recruit more employers to hire ex-offenders who have served their debt to society.
On Wednesday, Lamont met with the state Department of Correction Industry and Business Advisory Committee, which was formed earlier this year to help foster employment opportunities for returning citizens. He said employment provides the stability that former inmates need.
“It’s a job. You’re able to take care of your family. It’s confidence,” Lamont said.
Correction Department officials organized employers from around the state to improve the employment opportunities of returning citizens. The group has been meeting monthly, touring various programs and meeting with former inmates to discuss their employment challenges.
Employers have challenges too. There is a shortage of qualified, trained workers to fill jobs, especially in manufacturing in Connecticut. According to the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, there are an estimated 13,600 manufacturing jobs that need to be filled. Connecticut is home to more than 4,000 manufacturers who employ 159,000 employees.
“It’s an economic opportunity and a moral imperative,” said Mark Soycher, human resources counsel for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.
At the same time, “the reality is that employers are going to keep doing background checks,” Soycher added.
He said they are working on an employer guidebook to help companies work through the process of hiring someone with a criminal record and minimizing exposure.
He said he hears from employers about the shortcomings of the employees without criminal records whom they’ve hired.
“I’ve come to believe that hiring people with a record may be a better path in many cases and a better bet for success,” Soycher said.
But it’s natural for employers to be skeptical.
“Who wouldn’t be apprehensive about hiring someone like this?” asked John Santa, chair of the Department of Correction Industry and Business Advisory Committee.
Tom Krivickas, of Boat Works of South Windsor, is one of two employers who has been hiring ex-offenders through the DOC reintegration program.
“We are in a growth stage and were looking for some skilled, reliable employees and they’re tough to find these days,” Krivickas said.
Krivickas said these are individuals who made one mistake and are not career criminals.
“We’ve had a fantastic experience with it,” Krivickas said.
He said he has six employees who are in the program. He said they’ve now created a referral program for the company.
Angel Torres, who works for Whitcraft Group, an aerospace manufacturer, said having a job gave him hope while he was still incarcerated.
“When I was coming out, I still had the opportunity to stay at Whitcraft,” Torres said.
Torres was part of the work furlough program, which allows inmates to gain valuable skills and experience with employers before finishing their incarceration.
Correction Department officials said men have to prepare resumes, practice interviewing, and go through the selection process like anyone vying for a job opportunity. Participating employers interview appropriate candidates and it is their decision on whether the candidates are hired or not.
The DOC then works with candidates who are not selected and go over constructive feedback from employers to help them improve.
“As soon as these guys came into the shop and starting working with people,” the apprehension about the program from other workers ended, according to Jacqueline Gallo, general manager of the Whitcraft Group’s Eastford location.
“It’s a good program and it’s not as scary as it might seem,” Gallo added.
She said when the program was suspended in March because an inmate walked away from a training session at Asnuntuck Community College, the workers at Whitcraft were writing letters to DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook begging him to give it another chance.
The program was suspended for three weeks as a result of that escape.
Employers are not paid by the state for hiring the inmates as part of a reintegration furlough.