District Attorneys aren’t the typical players in the criminal justice system that one would expect to double as re-entry providers, but one is changing that narrative.
The Jails-to-Jobs program is an effort by the Lawrence County District Attorney’s office, and its purpose is to provide reformed convicted felons a chance in the workforce.
“The end result is a decrease in crime and an increase to the tax base of the city and county and school districts, and self-esteem and building of the families,” said District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa.
The program helps those who would, due to their criminal record, otherwise be barred from entering the workforce. It works by offering an incentive to employers who hire these ex-offenders in the form of a bond to guard against any liabilities as well as potential tax credits that equate to a partial reimbursement of the ex-offender’s wages.
The bonding program is a federal program created to minimize the risk of employers hiring at-risk or hard-to-place applicants. The 6-month, no-cost bond is worth up to $5,000 and is intended to protect employers against loss of money or property due to employee dishonesty.
Jails-to-Jobs, which is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, targets recidivism. By helping these ex-offenders find gainful and meaningful employment, they can support themselves and their families. Since many ex-offenders reoffend because of economic hardships, this program addresses that major cause of concern.
Lamancusa said that while the state rate of recidivism is nearly 70 percent, Lawrence County’s rate has plummeted to between 5 and 8 percent.
Before being admitted to the program, applicants must go through drug testing, background disclosures, and an interview. They also have to train through a Pennsylvania job training program before being paired with an employer.
Although there are numerous disqualifiers for applicants, one of them being any sexual act involving a child, so far Jails-to-Jobs has placed 270 people with felony convictions on their record into stable employment.
The program has been funded through grants from the Hoyt Foundation in its first three years, but this year county commissioners decided to take over funding of the program. The county noted that it was able to recover over $300,000 in court costs, so far, from ex-offenders who, but for the program, wouldn’t be employed and couldn’t make the payments.