IU research aims to open more employment options for people with criminal records

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Research being done here in Indiana could open up more doors for those with criminal records who struggle to find work.

In one national study, more than 75 percent of former inmates reported landing a job after time behind bars was next to impossible. And it appears all too easy to slip back into the system. The Indiana Department of Corrections reports 36 percent of people who get released will be back in a cell within three to four years.

It’s tough work, but employees at RecycleForce in Indianapolis are pulling themselves out of a tough spot.

“I started drugs to try and provide for my family, said Brandon Hughes, assistant warehouse manager.

Hughes spent two years in prison on drug charges. He came out and got the chance to work, processing recyclables.

“Finding a job, knowing that you’re a felon and knowing that it’s going to be hard for you to obtain a job, it’ll hurt your search looking for one,” he said.

“This is a labor force that wants to work, is willing to work, and can be a great labor force for your,” said Gregg Keesling, President and Founder of RecycleForce.

The company provides temporary employment, often for no more than 120 days, and receives federal grants to move individuals from work release facilities back into society. Keesling said the efforts yield results by passing people past the first hurdle, getting someone with a record, hired.

“The minute you check off a box that you have a criminal record, there are some biases and a stigma that can change the tone of the interview,” said Dr. Christopher Porter, a professor of management at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

Porter spent four months researching at RecycleForce in 2013 and interviewed 80 employees. His work isn’t complete yet, but he found the private sector can make changes to open up possibilities for workers re-entering, like creating flexibility in the work day and maintaining high expectations for those workers.

“We have to serve this population. Management scholars, business professionals aren’t trained and don’t put a premium on this population,” he said.

Porter said the employees he surveyed have pride in their work. Now it comes down to others giving these people hoping to make a new life for themselves, an actual chance.

“For a lot of folks, they feel like they’re making amends to their family because now they’re doing something legitimate, now they’re able to support their family with some certainty,” said Porter.

Keesling said 17 of his employees have gone on to be hired for the city of Indianapolis working for the Department of Public Works.

Once his research is published, Porter hopes it will have implications in Indiana and across the country. If you’d like to learn more about his research, you can contact him here.

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