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Gov. Deal Stresses Hiring Former Prisoners

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 2/7/2014, 9:57 a.m.
U.S. District Attorney Sally Quillian Yates and Gov. Nathan Deal Wednesday (Feb. 5) urged business leaders to give convicted felons ...
Ga. Gov. Nathan Deal appeals to community and bussiness leaders to hire former prisoners at the “Summit on Reentry” on Wed., Feb. 5 at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building. Photo by Titus Falodun.

ATLANTA - U.S. District Attorney Sally Quillian Yates and Gov. Nathan Deal Wednesday (Feb. 5) urged business leaders to give convicted felons a second chance at becoming productive citizens.

The “Summit on Reentry” held at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, featured two of the state’s most prominent officials explaining the need of state and federal governments working together with community and business leaders in aiding former prisoners seeking to adapt to life outside prison.

“No matter how many prosecutors we have, we’re not going to jail our way into safer communities,” Yates said. “We’re asking you to invest in the individuals coming out of prison, to give that second chance they have to be productive, supportive members of our community.”

From 2010 to 2012, 50 percent of the individuals leaving prisons in Georgia were released into 18 metropolitan Atlanta counties, per statistics provided at the summit.

“In 2011, the state of Georgia spent [more than] $23 million paying local jails to keep state prisoners, because we could not pick them up fast enough,” Gov. Deal said.

Furthermore, the cost of imprisonment and jail in the past 20 years have grown at a faster rate than nearly any other state budget item. In fact, the U.S. now spends more than $68 billion annually on federal, state, and local corrections.

This major financial hit on the budget is due to the roughly 40 percent of former federal prisoners and more than 60 percent of former state prisoners that are rearrested within three years of release, Yates explained.

And that’s just the adults.

“We’re seeing an increasingly high rate of violence among [youths],” Gov. Deal said.

“If you think it’s expensive to keep an adult confined, our state cost is about $18,000 per bed, per year for adults. You combine all the costs for incarcerating [youths], it’s about $90,000 [per] year, because you have so many other services you have to provide.”

The high recidivism (the act of reengaging in criminal behavior that results in being rearrested, reconvicted, or returned to custody within three years of release from prison or probation) is due to the lack of academic and social skills education, as well as limited employment options.

“We have a disproportionate number of black males that are incarcerated,” said Nancy Flake Johnson, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta. “That has had a devastating impact on our family structure [and community].”

The reentry summit speakers urged communities and businesses to turn away from stigmas involving the hiring of former prisoners, by embracing them with a second chance.

They also explained the perks, which includes financial benefits (i.e. tax credits and the federal bonding program).

Employers can save money on their federal income taxes in the form of a tax credit incentive through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program by hiring ex-felons. An ex-felon under the WOTC is an individual who has been convicted of a felony under any statute of the United States or any state, and has a hiring date, which is within one year from the date of conviction or release from prison.

Deal explained how effective prevention and re-entry measures, such as literacy programs, substance abuse treatment and housing assistance, will better help former prisoners in getting back on track and becoming valuable assets to employers.

“I see no reason why anyone should be released form a Georgia state prison unless they have achieved a high school diploma” or a GED certificate, he said.

The state plans to increase the high school diploma and GED programs available in prisons. The funding for these programs would come from funds within the Department of Corrections budget, according to Gov. Deal.

The governor said he also intends to ensure that all convicted felons will have a face-to-face interview to tell their story if they apply for certain state jobs.

“It’s your conduct that earned your way into prison; it is your conduct that oughta help you earn your way out of prison,” Gov. Deal said. “And we have to make sure that is the system that we emphasize.”