Letter to the Editor: A Second Chance is Worth the Risk

The Commercial Appeal

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Questions have been raised recently about the logic of hiring ex-felons for jobs throughout the Memphis area. Although no one would argue that crime should ever be tolerated or repeated, a larger picture needs to be considered. To automatically reject a person who’s made poor choices in the past and never allow them to get off of the mat may not be in the best interest of our city.

A good employer shouldn’t feel pressure to hire individuals just because they do or don’t have criminal backgrounds, but rather because they can do the jobs at hand and will become valuable assets to a company. Oftentimes, ex-offenders are so motivated to prove that they can overcome their mistakes past, provide for their families and give back to society; they can become the best employees a company can hire.

We know what happens when incarcerated individuals are not given a chance. With no access to jobs, they often resort back to crime. The recidivism rate in Tennessee is reported at anywhere from 52 percent to 81 percent. Last year, our state spent $126 million housing incarcerated individuals. Another new prison is being built. Is building new prisons really the answer?

The state can save money by reducing recidivism to less than 25 percent, which seems to be a realistic objective. Experienced job readiness programs routinely report this low percentage. And dramatic success stories have already been reported in Memphis by companies that have taken the risk and hired a felon.

Many not-for-profit organizations in the city like HopeWorks, Memphis Leadership Foundation’s Economic Opportunities program, Advance Memphis, JIFF and Lifeline for Success witness, on a daily basis, the lives that are being changed when individuals are given a second chance to get it right.

There will always be the repeat offender who is given a second chance and fails. These are the people who get media attention.

But for every negative example in the news there is an equal number of men and women who have beaten the odds and become successful at their jobs. They do not return to prison. They do not live off the government welfare system. They work hard, earning the respect of co-workers and their management.

Who hasn’t made a mistake in life? Who hasn’t needed someone to give them a second chance? Faith-based organizations live by a standard of helping other people, regardless of their mistakes. It is the right thing to do. And it is well worth the risk.

Ron Wade

Executive Director, HopeWorks Inc.