Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

January 13, 2014

Michigan bills seek to help parolees land jobs

DETROIT (AP) — New bipartisan legislation in Lansing is designed to help inmates find a job when they leave prison while easing the fears of businesses about the risks of hiring former convicts.

The three bills would let Michigan certify felons' skills and character to help them during the job application process. The "certificate of employability" could go to parolees based on their criminal history, institutional behavioral record, and vocational and educational training.

Two Republicans and a Democrat launched the initiative last week.

Lawmakers said they hope to encourage the business community to give parolees a chance. Michigan has about 40,000 state prisoners and about 70,000 people on probation or parole. About a third of freed prisoners are back behind bars within three years, according to the latest figures from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

"The benefits of a collaboration of this type are endless," Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, said in a statement. "As a former assistant prosecutor, I saw offenders leave and come back into the system, headed for prison again because they couldn't find a job and fell back into making a living the only way they knew how — the criminal way. With the support of the business community, we are going to turn this around."

The legislation would let businesses use the certificate as evidence of due care in hiring and give them immunity in lawsuits alleging negligent hiring. Sponsors of the bills said they hope for a hearing within weeks.

"A 78 percent unemployment rate for parolees is a major problem, and the solution is to break the cycle," said Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit. "These men and women are getting out and then going right back in because they cannot find the one thing they need to succeed — a job.

"Providing tangible proof of the skills they learned in prison and the character they possess shows a potential employer they are not just a criminal record, they are someone with valuable skills who has proven their work ethic and reliability and deserve to have a good job just like anyone else."

John Walsh, R-Livonia, said there is a "tremendous opportunity here to connect the business community with a talented, educated workforce."

"The business leaders I have talked with report nothing but positive outcomes from hiring ex-offenders, and they are encouraging other businesses to follow their lead," Walsh said. "I hope the reduced liability legislation will assuage any hesitation potential employers have about giving parolees a chance to prove their worth."

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