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Haley highlights efforts to help former prisoners find jobs

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Nikki Haley told prisoners Monday a better life beyond the barbed-wire fencing starts with a legal job, and it’s her job to help them find one.

“Every one of you deserves better. I don’t know what got you in here, but I know you deserve not to come back,” she told about 90 inmates at Manning Correctional Institution in Columbia, a pre-release center for men within six months of being released. “I want you to have a job so you’ve got something that makes you feel productive and worthy of living a good life.”

Haley was visiting the state Department of Employment and Workforce’s “work ready initiative” at Manning.

About 450 former inmates have completed the program since its launch in November 2014. According to the agency, 98 report they’re currently employed. Exact numbers and where they work are unknown. But the agency plans to cross-match wage records to better track the program’s results.

The program is intended to be the link between training for a job and actually landing one.

Inmates at Manning were already learning construction trades such as brick masonry and carpentry. The initiative added the teaching of computer, interview and “life” skills — such as proper attire and how to explain their incarceration. Inmates also craft a resume and apply for jobs online. Some inmates have been in prison so long, they don’t know how to work a computer, said Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling.

“Before, they would still have job training, but we would basically give them a bus ticket and drop them off at the bus station and have them fend for themselves,” he said.

Only inmates imprisoned for non-violent offenses qualify for the program. Other criteria include having a discipline-free record and a GED or high-school diploma. Nearly 470 are currently enrolled.

The program is too new for Corrections to have a recidivism rate for participants.

But if an ex-offender gets a job, they’re much less likely to commit crimes for money, Stirling said.

The program is “good not only for these folks but for public safety,” he said. “If they’re working and busy, they won’t get in trouble.”

The employment agency is asking employers to give ex-prisoners a chance. So far, they’ve put 200 businesses on the “second chance” list. Incentives “to help employers feel more comfortable” include federal tax credits, a federal insurance program and on-the-job training credits, said DEW Director Cheryl Stanton.

Of the roughly 900 inmates released from prisons statewide monthly, 100 of them leave from Manning, Stirling said.

While the program is limited, last month Corrections began registering every prisoner in DEW’s database for job seekers as they’re released, he said.

Haley said the program’s still being developed, but the ultimate goal is that “every person who leaves the fence has a job” waiting for them.

“These are people who made bad decisions, but they aren’t people we should throw away. These are people who deserve a better life. It’s our job is to make sure we lift them up and give them life skills and training skills,” she said. “This is about filling the needs of businesses and giving people second chances.”

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