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Pence Applauds State Prison-to-Work Program

Brandon Smith
Indiana Public Broadcasting

Governor Mike Pence is encouraging more companies to take part in HIRE, a state program that helps former convicts reenter the workforce. Pence says the program generated $8 million last year for the state.

Of the more than 20,000 people released from Indiana prisons each year, the Department of Corrections reports 36 percent return to prison within three years.  The recidivism rate climbs to 60 percent if the person is unemployed. 

The Hoosier Initiative for Re-Entry, or HIRE program was created last year to provide inmates a path to the workforce.  Governor Mike Pence says helping people stay out of prison saves the state money.

“By working to help citizens re-enter society, become reliable workers, if five hundred ex-offenders remain employed and out of trouble with the law, that actually would save Hoosiers some $4 million a year,” Pence said.

About two hundred Indiana employers have hired more than six hundred ex-cons since the program began last April. 

Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Scott Sanders says his agency, along with the Department of Corrections, provides education and training to inmates to prepare them for the workforce.  He also says his department works with employers to assure them that the ex-offenders they hire have been strenuously screened.

“There’s no gang affiliation with any of these individuals that come through the program,” Sanders said. “No disciplinary action – they pretty much have to have a clean slate in prison for about two years.  They also have to have an ability to have a job and hold a job while in prison.”

Sanders notes there’s a federal tax credit for companies who hire ex-offenders, providing greater incentive to companies to take part in the program.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.