Jobs for parolees and offenders go unfilled

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INDIANAPOLIS–Gregg Keesling looked out across the floor of Recycleforce at its warehouse just north east of downtown and estimated he had about 60 employees on the job today with another 60 or so assigned to city work crews and wished he could almost double his workforce.

“We could be putting here 125 people at a time and another 125 on that crew,” Keesling said, “So, 200-225 people at a time that we would manage with inside and outside work.”

Keesling blames the pandemic shutdown and reluctance of employees to come back to work and the turnover among probation, parole and community correction officers who refer applicants to his site as the reasons for the slump in hiring.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting the new oversight system better connected with us,” said Keesling as 20 probation officers, many of them new to their own jobs, toured the recycling plant and learned about referring clients there for work.

“I do know the labor market has been better than it’s ever been for a person with a felony record. We did see people bypass the program to go into $14-15 an hour jobs that are out there.”

Starting pay at Recycleforce is $10 an hour and medium to high risk offenders and parolees must be referred by a case worker to apply.

Anthony Carter has been at Recycleforce since 2018 after serving eight years in prison.

“I got referred here on probation,” he said. “It gives me a chance to stay out of jail.

“It makes Indianapolis a safer city because it gives us someplace to go during the daytime because there’s a lot of stuff that happens during the day when we got nothing to do,” said Carter, “because if it wasn’t for Recycleforce, these guys that you see in here right now, that’s where they would be, out on the streets, doing something criminal.”

Keesling estimates some sixty employees who came through the Recycleforce program have been killed in the last ten years, including a half-dozen this year.

“The people who have been killed this year have not been in the program,” he said. “They’ve either been violated and sent back to prison or jail for a short period time and then didn’t come back to the program or couldn’t get requalified when they got released or they had left the program. It’s really rare that a person is murdered or is a killer when they’re in the program. It happens after violations after when they’ve given up hope.”

Eric Cathey recognized his life needed structure and that he needed a job.

“I would either be in prison or dead from me not being productive and from not having things the right way, not doing it the right way,” he said. “I learned how to pay my taxes, that’s rule one, and give back and make sure my fellow man ain’t been left behind.”

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