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The Last Word

For safer communities and new hiring opportunities, consider ex-offenders

By Sec. Solomon Graves

More than 80,000 adult offenders are currently incarcerated in DOC facilities or on parole/under probation supervision, and over 80% of state prison inmates will be released from prison at some point in their sentence.

One word that describes this job market—competitive. One word that describes successful industries—innovative. An innovation being considered more often in this job market is hiring ex-offenders. These individuals want a chance to prove their skills; your industry and communities across Arkansas stand to benefit from giving that chance.

The Department of Corrections is working diligently to prepare offenders to be qualified job candidates upon release. We are very excited to be in the planning stages of a pilot program that could help offenders obtain their commercial driver license.

Oftentimes, employers only consider potential negative outcomes from hiring ex-offenders. Consider that there are also practical benefits, such as supervision terms that often require parolees to hold a job, stay away from criminal activity, check in with parole officers and submit to drug testing. Ex-offenders can be more reliable than other prospective workers.

In the past five years, the Division of Correction released an average of 7,550 inmates per year and the Division of Community Correction released an average of 3,725 offenders per year. Those individuals need work to be successful and, in many cases, to remain out of prisons because employment is important in decreasing recidivism.

Research also shows that offenders with higher-paying jobs have an even lower risk of reoffending. That is why the DOC puts such a heavy emphasis on providing marketable vocational training in order to reduce the risk of under-employment upon release.

If we prepare offenders effective programming and teach them marketable job skills while they’re in our custody, they will not only get jobs but they will get high-skill jobs that allow them to provide for themselves and their families.

For the DOC, giving offenders the tools necessary to find success is a continuous process that begins on the first day an offender is incarcerated.

We work constantly to increase the effectiveness of our programming to reduce recidivism and to put offenders in a better position to be law-abiding, contributing members of society. We actively look for programming that will allow offenders to plug holes in the job market. For instance, we are building a barber school at the Grimes Unit because there are only 2,600 licensed barbers in Arkansas. We also recently installed heavy equipment simulators at the Varner Unit because we know there’s need for workers who can operate hydraulic excavators, backhoes, bulldozers and forklifts.

We also provide offenders the opportunity to increase their employability and career readiness by earning certification through the Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy program. WAGE classes include GED instruction, keyboarding, job preparation and basic computer literacy.

The DOC currently offers a range of career and vocational training including building and grounds maintenance; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; computerized applications technology; computerized accounting; Future Fit (manufacturing skills) and more.

Our agriculture program teaches inmates skills they need to find employment working with row crops, produce, dairy and beef cattle, laying hens, horses and timber. Up to 375 inmates are learning valuable farming skills on the DOC’s 20,000 acres of farmland at any given time. Recently, our first agriculture technology class received certification.

Arkansas Correctional Industries trains inmates in high-demand fields, including graphic arts, janitorial services, metal fabrication, vehicle refurbishing and the production of furniture and vinyl products.

The DOC is committed to developing and strengthening partnerships with industries such as yours, as well as institutions of higher education, nonprofits and faith-based groups to enhance reentry and employment opportunities for offenders. We also remain committed to ensuring that rigorous community supervision does not create a barrier for offenders to maintain employment.

Please join us in this important work by giving ex-offenders the chance they need to be successful. Your industry will be stronger and our state will be safer as a result.

Solomon Graves serves as the Arkansas Secretary of Corrections since his nomination by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in July 2020.

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