Don't leave ex-offenders out of Baltimore's 'next economy'

May 03, 2012

I read with great interest the Brookings Institution study on job creation in the Baltimore region reported in The Sun on April 23 ("'Next economy' envisioned for Baltimore area"). The study was admirable for its call to action — a robust effort on the part of all key stakeholders to create jobs for the "next economy" and for a comprehensive inventory of education and workforce training resources to prepare our citizens for these jobs. As this collective effort gets underway, there is a segment of low income residents that cannot be neglected — the over 8,000 ex-offenders who return to Baltimore City, and many more to the greater metropolitan area, every year after their incarceration. As a judge and board member of non-profits working with ex-offenders, the challenges of returning ex-offenders are daunting, especially in terms of employment.

Statistics show that 33 percent of those arrested and convicted did not have a job — any job, much less one with a meaningful wage — when arrested. Statistics also show that the education of those incarcerated is significantly less than the average citizen. One study found one-third of prisoners had less than a high school diploma, compared to 10 percent of the general population.

Statistics also show that employment on release is a strong inoculant against recidivism. One study found that unemployed federal ex-offenders in the community under supervision were revoked and returned to prison at a rate more than 500 percent higher than those who were employed.

Many, if not most, returning ex-offenders do not have a job on release from incarceration. Results of a 2006 survey showed that a majority of employers flatly refuse to hire ex-offenders, despite Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance that such reflexive, unexamined refusal may violate civil rights laws.

So, I applaud this initiative of the Annie Casey Foundation.

However, there should be a seat at the table and a voice for this population as we go forward. The inventory of education and workforce training must include a look at correctional education and ways to include in that system preparation for the jobs of the next economy. And, there must be public education and community and employer acceptance of returning ex-offenders. We cannot deny them participation in the legitimate workforce and reasonably expect that they will refrain from criminal activity.

So as our community embarks on this exciting, visionary initiative, attention must be paid to this segment of the low income population in our region, arguably least equipped for the jobs of the new, next economy.

Susan K. Gauvey, Baltimore

The writer is United States magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for Maryland. The views expressed are hers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Court.

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