Maryland Correctional Enterprises Walks the Walk with Ex-Offender Employment
By: David Jenkins, Director of Reentry Services, and Rhonda Gaines, Workforce Development Specialist
Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE), the prison industries arm of the Maryland Division of Correction, has taken the lead in prison reentry by providing a six month reentry course – Continuing Allocation of Re-Entry Services; along with hiring ex-offenders who have the skills and work habits needed by MCE to be a successful employee and productive citizen.
While it holds true that having a conviction will prevent an individual from working inside a correctional institution, the same is not true for the employment hiring process at MCE Headquarters in Jessup, Maryland. When a position in this area becomes available, it is open to all applicants regardless of their prior conviction status.
Currently, eight ex-offenders are employed in a variety of responsible positions at MCE Headquarters. Six of the eight worked for MCE while incarcerated, learning job skills and work ethics in at least one, if not more, of the 33 business units in 11 institutions around Maryland. Given the limited size of the MCE Headquarters workforce (sixty employees) and the specific skills required for many positions, this level of ex-offender employment reflects a strong commitment to providing opportunity to deserving individuals.
MCE believes that correctional industries should lead by example. We know first hand how hard working these individuals have been in our enterprise, we have seen their work ethic, and we know how pivotal they are to our success. Further, we know from the increasing body of “What Works” research, that gainful employment upon release is the most statistically significant factor in reducing recidivism. Research conducted in Maryland has shown that MCE employment, of at least one year, is associated with reduced recidivism (3 year follow up) when compared with the general release population. We take this to heart and take pride in the success of our program.
Three current employees, located at the headquarters building, are a prime example of MCE’s commitment to hiring qualified ex-offenders. Although each of their stories is different, one common thread is their MCE employment, combined with a variety of educational and treatment programs, which prepare individuals for post release employment and successful community reintegration.
The first featured employee is Thomas Lane Jr. who is employed as a Graphic Designer in the Marketing Department, where he is responsible for the layout and design of company literature, catalogues, website, and media. He was employed by MCE for three years while incarcerated and for five years since his release. Thomas is currently enrolled in a commercial graphics program with the goal of earning a bachelors degree. He is active in Toastmasters International and serves on the board of the Educational Workforce Training Coordinating Council for Correctional Institutions. Thomas is a founding member of a community outreach organization, “The Anointed Ex-Offenders,” which brings a message of hope to the incarcerated and at risk youth through song and testimonies. He views this mission as a form of restorative justice to give back to society for the choices he made in the past. While incarcerated, Thomas took advantage of a wide variety of opportunities including: academic and training opportunities, volunteer and service organizations, as well as a leadership role in a prison ministries program.
The second featured ex-offender employee is Deborah Thomas, who started her employment at MCE Headquarters on work release. She started as a Fiscal Clerk and earned promotions to her current position as Lead Fiscal Clerk. She worked for MCE for eight years while incarcerated and for three years since her release. Since her release, she has married and started her own business- “Sweet Impressions.” A current goal Deborah is working towards is saving to buy her own home. During her work release employment at MCE, a supervisor noted her work habits, accountability and dedication, which in turn led to an interview for her first position upon release. MCE employment has been a part of her new life.
The third featured ex-offender employee is Timothy Blair a recent MCE hire who worked for MCE in the graphics plants for ten years while incarcerated. He is a recent graduate of the CARES structured re-entry program. Tim credits the CARES program for giving him the skills necessary to compete for his position as Installation Coordinator. Despite his short tenure with MCE, he has worked on furniture installation projects totaling over $3 million. During his incarceration, he participated in a number of educational, treatment and service programs, as well as earning a Business Management Diploma with highest honors. He recalls the ten years of MCE employment while incarcerated as providing a normalizing experience, approximating civilian employment and the “outside world,” as opposed to the somewhat chaotic prison life. Tim also proudly served his country as a U.S. Marine.
Thomas, Deborah and Timothy are a perfect illustration of the impact MCE employment, in combination with treatment and education programs, can have on the lives of individuals as they prepare for re-entry, with employment as a centerpiece of their new lives. Unfortunately, numerous employers exclude ex-offenders from the hiring process even if the crime previously committed is not relevant to the position for which the individual is applying. Many ex-offenders do not have the opportunity to explain their situation and, more importantly, how they have addressed issues related to their incarceration. Many employers are not aware of the Federal Bonding Program and the Work Opportunities Tax Credit, which provide incentives for ex-offender hiring and protection for the employer concerned about hiring an ex-offender.
MCE has clearly benefited from the skills and commitment of ex-offenders. MCE Chief Executive Officer Stephen Shiloh summarizes the MCE experience of including qualified ex-offenders in the MCE work force stating “One of our many goals in correctional enterprises is to give these men and women a brighter future and more positive options in life, i.e. – to make a difference. When you can see the proof standing right in front of you it is very rewarding. Everything that we as an organization have worked towards, everything that they as an individual have worked for has led to our mutual success – and the accomplishment of one of our most important goals.”