justice / prisoners' rights

Ex-cons want job help

As much as I don’t like the term “ex-con”, this is a good article from today’s St. Catharines Standard, posted by Kathleen Harris from Sun Media.  It talks about the need for the Canadian government to help ex-prisoners find employment when they’re released.

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Shunned by employers, disoriented and financially busted, ex-cons are calling on the government to do more to help them land jobs and avoid repeat brushes with the law.

Chuck Zwicker, who founded the web-based peer support service Cons Helping Cons, wants federal and provincial governments to launch incentive programs for employers to hire offenders trying to transition back into society. He said public safety is best protected when an ex-con is able to find employment instead of relapsing into bad old habits.

Yet most find it tough to land a job with a criminal record.

“You can take all the programs and job skills training you want in prison, but if nobody will give you a chance when you get out, all those programs don’t matter,” said Zwicker, who spent six years in prison for manslaughter in the 1990s.

Zwicker said ex-cons face a slew of challenges when they return to the street — from mending broken relationships to figuring out the baffling new technology that has emerged with the passage of time. After years of living in a regimented institutional setting, making everyday decisions can be overwhelming.

“It’s almost like you’re in a time capsule. Very little changes in prison. Twenty years can go by then you’re thrown back out and it’s like you went back or ahead in time depending on the situation,” he said.

But the biggest barrier to staying on course for a crime-free life is employment, Zwicker said. More than 97 per cent of those who receive a pardon and get a job never commit another crime.

Along with incentive programs that could compensate employers who employ ex-cons, Zwicker said the pardon process should be revamped to make it automatic for anyone who has not reoffended in three years after their sentence is complete. “Lifers” on parole forever should be permitted a conditional pardon for employment purposes.

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