Gov. Nathan Deal signed another leg of a criminal justice reform bill Sunday at Antioch Baptist Church in Gainsville that will help previous nonviolent offenders gain employment upon re-entry to society.
Senate Bill 365 will remove barriers that keep convicted felons from finding a job. Deal said in signing the bill that it will reduce recidivism and strengthen the state’s economy.
The bill will require the state Board of Corrections to implement programs that will assist offenders with gaining employment upon being released from prison.
The Board of Corrections reported that the costs of these programs haven’t been determined. They did report that vocational programs such as welding, diesel and mechanics, and commercial driver’s license will go into effect July 1.
Barriers such as education, transportation and opportunity are addressed through this bill to give convicts an easier path to finding jobs.
Circles of Troup County Director Sherri Brown works with many people in poverty looking for a way out. Some of those she works with were once convicted of a felony.
“I think it’s great,” Brown said. “I’d like to see more barriers removed.”
Brown said Circles deal with not only individual problems that keep people in poverty, but also systemic issues such as having a prior conviction.
“I’m not advocating that everybody deserves a job. They need to be qualified and good employees,” she said.
Brown said she simply wants those with skills and qualities to at least have the opportunity for a job interview.
“We point our finger at people … and say put your life back together, but then nobody wants to give them a chance to put their life back together,” she said.
Brown said that not everyone who is released from prison will want to change their ways, but for those who do, they should have the advantage to do so.
In addition to assisting convicted felons find a job, Brown said she would like to see the felony question to be taken off online applications and have the employer ask the question in person so potential employees have the opportunity to explain their situation.
“I’m not saying people shouldn’t run background checks. I think it’s fair to run background checks and I think they should,” Brown said. “But I also think it’s fair that ex offenders have a chance to tell their story if they’re qualified for the job.”
This bill comes on the heels of another part of the criminal justice reform bill signed in 2012 that changed how the state sentences non-violent criminals. That bill set alternatives for incarceration regarding these offenders.
LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar said the latest criminal justice reform bills have put a deemphasis on property crime.
According to Dekmar, nonviolent criminals mostly include those involved in property theft such as burglary, theft or shoplifting.
Though Dekmar said the difference of someone going from nonviolent to violent is whether someone happens to walk in during a burglary or theft.
Dekmar remains cautious about the latest reform bills including the one signed on Sunday and said he will be waiting on the data to see its effectiveness.
“I just haven’t seen persuasive evidence that those who decide to be in crime change their ways because the government thinks it’s a good idea,” he said.
The bill hopes to lower recidivism, but Dekmar said the model by which recidivism is usually measured only looks at a time period where the offender hasn’t been caught committing a crime, not necessarily that they aren’t committing crime.
He also added that recidivism is influenced by many variables, not just joblessness.
However, Dekmar said there are those who will and should take advantage of the second chance given to them.
Sheriff James Woodruff said people who are released from prison are going to find a way to make an income, and if they cannot find a job they will resort to selling drugs or stealing. He added that a job could help a convicted felon become a productive member of society.