With the unemployment rate in South Carolina approaching low levels not seen in more than 15 years, the state Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) can focus more on helping those workers with specific barriers to finding jobs, like ex-offenders.
DEW’s Deputy Director of Workplace Operations Grey Parks said his agency partnered with the Department of Corrections to create the “Second Chance” program nearly two years ago. Second Chance trains prison inmates 90 days before their release in resume building, interview coaching and job searching to help them land careers upon their release. Once they leave prison, the hope is that interested companies can immediately hire those inmates to contribute to South Carolina’s workforce.
“The idea being that when you go into suitable employment once you release, it decreases the recidivism rate for those folks,” said Park.
According to the Corrections Department, the recidivism rate of offenders is around 24 percent. But that drops to around 14 percent for those with a job. Around 900 people are released from prisons in South Carolina every month.
Grey says that the Second Chance Program has been easy to sell to businesses across the state because several companies have already had success with program.
“We are getting other businesses in contact with businesses that have had success with the program and the talk amongst themselves,” he said. “Because when they hear the success from other business, it means a lot more to them.”
Employers who hire people in the Second Chance program can lower the risk of employing ex-offenders by securing a federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit through DEW. The federal tax incentive allows employers to claim a federal income tax credit equal to 40 percent of an individual’s first-year wages but capped at $2,400.
Park says The Second Chance program battles the stigma that inmates do not want to work after their release.
“There is a real demand right now because inmates want to go to work,” said Park. “They want to know that when they leave they can go into a job and have gainful employment.”