BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published January 15, 2014
In recent years, Michigan parolees have faced tremendous difficulty gradually re-integrating into society. Specifically, many ex-convicts have endured trouble in attaining employment — one of the most important steps to prevent recidivism. From 2001 to 2012, Michigan encountered a 30 percent decline in parolee employment . With tarnished reputations, these parolees are stigmatized by past criminal activity that may not be indicative of their current capabilities or work ethic. To address the employment crisis among former inmates, Michigan legislators are prepared to install a bill package that issues a certificate of employment for eligible parolees. The state should not delay the bill's passage, as it would help alleviate the problems faced by former convicts.
Last week, the Michigan legislators introduced a three-bill package that would allow the Department of Corrections to issue a certificate of employability to inmates based on their criminal history, training, skills, behavioral record and education. The certificates aim to vouch for parolees’ good moral character and ability to engage in the work force. With the certificate, employers are immune from negligent-hiring lawsuits.
Ex-criminals and society alike would benefit from higher parolee employment. Studies have shown that increasing parolee employment would significantly mitigate future criminal activity. The reincarceration rate of employed parolees is 63 percent less than of those who are unemployed. Parolees being reincarcerated creates unnecessary prison maintenance which can rack up several millions according to Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a third-party organization that vouches for prisoners’ rights. CAPPS executive director Laura Sager wrote that almost 30 percent of inmates who have been denied parole are in the lowest risk category for release. The inefficiency of the parole system is detrimental to both parolees who deserve fairer sentencing and to Michigan citizens who pay taxes that to maintain crowded prisons.
Iowa and Ohio have already passed similar legislation that issue employment certification to qualified parolees. Both states require parolees to demonstrate commitment and desire to re-enter the work force in order to be eligible for the certificate. Attaining the certificate validates former inmates’ exceptional performance while under the states’ supervision. The parolee employment license upholds government-approved standards that would ensure the safety of employers and companies. Already, Ohio has shown improvement in parolee reincarceration rates.
Parolee employment certification would undoubtedly reduce recidivism and prison costs, and fill unwanted low-entry occupations. However, lawmakers should be careful not to discriminate among the various types of criminals. As it stands, the certificate of employment seems to have a preference for white-collar and non-violent offenders. Violent offenders should also have the opportunity to earn the certificate if the rigorous and stringent evaluation standards are enforced. Taking these considerations in mind, Michigan should adopt the policy and effectively improve the quality of life for an oft-forgotten underclass in the state.