Colorado Department of Law announces $1.1 million public safety initiative to support businesses that hire people leaving prison as part of effort to reduce crime and create opportunities
Nov. 9, 2021 (DENVER)—To improve public safety and reduce crime, Attorney General Phil Weiser today announced a $1.1 million public/private initiative with the Colorado Department of Corrections and community-based organizations to bolster employment opportunities and services for people leaving Colorado’s prison system.
More than 8,500 people leave Colorado prisons each year. Data from the CDOC shows that nearly half of offenders who are released return to prison within three years for committing new crimes or for violating terms and conditions of parole. According to a new report from the Department of Law, providing employment opportunities for those leaving prison is one of the best ways to lower recidivism—helping people stay out of prison once they are released rather than being reincarcerated. People with prior criminal convictions, however, face significant barriers to employment, and this is especially true for people recently released from prison.
While Colorado has a deep, experienced network of public, private, and civic partnerships throughout the state, Attorney General Weiser said opportunities exist for even greater collaboration to provide people with prior criminal convictions a chance at obtaining employment and becoming positive contributors to their communities.
“As a state, we share a collective interest in ensuring that every person who leaves prison reenters our communities successfully and does not take actions that may put them back into prison. Employment is one of the best predictors for successful reentry into the community and many businesses are struggling now to find new employees. Investing in successful reentry outcomes leads to safer communities, stronger families, fewer victims of crime, and a more dynamic economy that benefits all Coloradans,” Attorney General Weiser said.
The initiative unveiled today has three primary goals: investing financial resources to expand the impact of proven and promising reentry service providers, developing a network of employers in Colorado, and supporting CDOC’s efforts to develop and expand innovative approaches to pre-release training, mentoring, and transitional work experiences.
Governor Jared Polis said: “The initiative announced today takes an important step forward to address the issue of employment by working directly with employers and incentivizing the hiring of reentering individuals. By partnering together, we can help people succeed while moving Colorado forward. I want to thank Attorney General Weiser for his commitment to this issue, and for utilizing these funds for an important cause.”
To achieve these goals, the Department of Law is providing a $900,000 grant over three years to CDOC to work with the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership and other community organizations to build a network of employers willing to hire people leaving prison. This network will help businesses receive the training and support they need to succeed as fair chance employers and spur continuous learning and sharing among peer employers about best practices for hiring, developing, and retaining talent.
The CDOC will receive an additional $200,000 in grants to support community organizations that assist people leaving the prison system with job skills, mental health support, housing, and other needs.
“More than 95% of the men and women who come into the CDOC are released back into the community at some point in time. We know that the best way to ensure public safety is for those individuals to leave prison with a job, a place to live, and community connections,” said CDOC Executive Director Dean Williams. “We have already begun to develop relationships with incredible employers who see the wisdom and impact of fair chance hiring. This effort will help us to advance that work in a big way and continues to drive forward the Departments’ goal of reducing the recidivism rate in Colorado. I deeply appreciate the Governor and the Attorney General supporting smart re-entry efforts.”
The CDOC currently partners with the LCCL and non-profit community partners across the state through the Work and Gain Education and Employment Skills (WAGEES) program. The LCCL serves as a grantmaking intermediary, providing administrative oversight and acting as a liaison and translator between state agencies and community partners. Also, the LCCL works in partnership with the National Reentry Workforce Collaborative (NRWC), which strategically collaborates to establish unified approaches that support education, workforce, and reentry. Continuing to strengthen these partnerships and trust among existing service providers and other stakeholders is key to simplifying and unifying the reentry experience.
“Colorado continues to demonstrate its innovation in reimagining effective reentry through its community reinvestment initiatives. Together, community partners, CDOC, key stakeholders, NRWC, and the LCCL are building person-centered reentry services and ecosystems that promote better outcomes for justice-involved people and safer communities. This initiative builds on the collective strengths of the non-profit, public, and private sectors and we applaud Attorney General Weiser for his leadership and support,” said Richard Morales, LCCL’s Deputy Executive Director.
The Department of Law will continue to collaborate with reentry stakeholders from across the public, private, and non-profit sectors to strengthen the state’s reentry ecosystem and develop a “prison-to-employment pathway” that engages talent and employers to increase successful reentry and improve public safety, Weiser said.