Recent TaxWatch Op-Eds

Published on Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Expanding Job Opportunities for Non-Violent Offenders

By Dominic M. Calabro, President & CEO

With more than‭ ‬100,000‭ ‬inmates‭ ‬behind bars,‭ ‬Florida’s correctional population is among the largest in the United States.

One of the primary causes for the high population is that more than two-thirds of offenders are re-arrested and‭ ‬more than one-in-four‭ ‬return to prison within three years of their release.‭  ‬When these individuals cycle in and out of state and local facilities,‭ ‬they run up an enormous bill that is shouldered by Florida taxpayers.‭ ‬It costs an average of‭ ‬nearly‭ ‬$19,000‭ ‬per year to house an inmate‭ – ‬more than three times the cost of tuition at the University of Florida.‭

Allowing‭ ‬non-violent prisoners‭ ‬who have paid their debt to society a better chance to be considered for employment could help reduce recidivism,‭ ‬improve public safety,‭ ‬and‭ ‬save taxpayers millions of‭ ‬dollars each year.

More than‭ ‬30,000‭ ‬inmates are released‭ ‬from Florida prisons annually.‭ ‬This means nearly‭ ‬8,000‭ ‬inmates released from prison in‭ ‬2016‭ ‬will be back‭ ‬behind bars by‭ ‬2019,‭ ‬and‭ ‬21,000‭ ‬will have been arrested within that same time frame after unnecessarily hurting Florida’s families and businesses.‭ ‬While these numbers have decreased in recent years,‭ ‬they still suggest that Florida must improve‭ ‬the odds of success for‭ ‬offenders‭’ ‬re-entry into society.‭

One of the most difficult challenges a prisoner faces upon release is finding a steady job.‭  ‬The unemployment rate in Florida has decreased since‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬but the job market in the Sunshine State remains competitive,‭ ‬posing a challenge for released offenders trying to re-enter the work force.‭

While many offenders participate in educational,‭ ‬vocational,‭ ‬and work-release programs before and after their release,‭ ‬the truth is that no amount of programming can put someone who has served time on an even playing field with someone who has not.‭  ‬Beyond legal limits on employment options,‭ ‬released offenders also face non-statutory obstacles when they look for work.‭  ‬National studies show that having a record‭ (‬but otherwise similar backgrounds‭) ‬decreases the chance of a job applicant receiving a callback after an interview by up to‭ ‬75‭ ‬percent.‭  ‬This poses a serious problem,‭ ‬as unemployment for offenders has been consistently linked to increases in recidivism and decreased public safety.

The nation has long sought solutions addressing the cycle between unemployment and keeping ex-offenders from returning to prison.‭  ‬The federal government has incentives to encourage employers to consider ex-offenders for employment,‭ ‬the most notable being the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which allows for up to‭ ‬$9,600‭ ‬in tax reductions for businesses‭ ‬that hire qualified ex-offenders.‭  ‬Several states have added to this effort and a similar push in Florida could be beneficial.‭  ‬A few policymakers highlighted this during the‭ ‬2015‭ ‬Legislative Session in bills that sought to create a‭ ‬$1,000‭ ‬state tax credit for employers hiring ex-offenders and accepting vocational referrals.

These tax credits actually save taxpayers money.‭ ‬For every‭ ‬100‭ ‬inmates that find employment and do not re-offend,‭ ‬the state can save at least‭ ‬$2‭ ‬million in future corrections costs.‭  ‬That doesn’t include the increase in public safety that comes with ex-offenders working rather than committing crimes.‭ ‬Florida needs to get serious about improving employment opportunities for ex-offenders.‭ ‬As our legislative leaders search for ways to save taxpayer‭’ ‬money,‭ ‬helping offen ders get to work will make our state safer and allow for investments that will benefit all Floridians rather than maintaining a costly cycle of incarceration.

Dominic M.‭ ‬Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Featured in Sunshine State News and the Tallahassee Democrat.
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