Finding a job after serving time in prison is not easy. But state officials and community organizations in Milwaukee are trying to make it easier through the city's new Reentry Network.
The network held its first conference this week, bringing together employers, former offenders, prison and probation officials, and job trainers. Keisha Russell served six years in prison for shooting and injuring someone during an argument. Now she runs an ex-offender job placement program. She says it was a community organization that reached into the prison to help her rebuild her life, not programs offered by the prison system.
"Prison actually makes individuals worse," she says. "There's no rehabilitation at all. It being so negative there forced me to say Okay, it's always been in me to do well. so being there was scary . I had to say I am never coming back here."
After a stint as construction worker, she returned to college and is now working on a postgraduate degree. Her message to employers is to give former offenders a chance to prove themselves. But according to attorney Eric Rumbaugh, state law discourages employers from doing that . Rumbaugh led an employers workshop at the reentry summit on the pros an cons of doing criminal background checks in the hiring process. Rumbaugh says under current state law, employers can be sued if an employee with a criminal record commits a crime on the job.
"If you want to compel businesses to engage people with criminal records and there's good public policy reasons for doing that, don't penalize people for hiring someone with a criminal record if it comes out later that he did something bad," he says.
Reentry programs run by the prison system as well as those run by community groups usually counsel offenders to tell prospective employers about their past at a hiring interview.