MDRC in the News

 ‘I Don’t Want to See Him Fail’: A Firm Takes a Chance on Ex-Inmates

The Wall Street Journal

05/2019

CHICAGO—When John Brady showed for work at Progressive Coating LLC in late January, it was a victory for owner Stephen Walters and his managers.

With the job market tight, the small company in October hired Mr. Brady, who had a criminal record, through a retraining program. He worked about two months, then got fired for a drinking problem.

Just over a month later, he was back, sweeping and stacking boxes before dawn as he waited for co-workers to arrive. He had checked into a substance-abuse program and was hoping to get his life back on track. Progressive hoped for the same.

“John has everything in him to succeed,” says Edgar Rosales, Progressive’s operations manager. “I don’t want to see him fail. I feel like I will fail as well”…..

…..At tiny Progressive, Mr. Walters is experimenting with putting former inmates into vacancies. He is experiencing both the ups and downs: Hiring people with criminal records can pay off, but keeping them on the job sometimes presents heart-rending dilemmas…..

…..Former inmates often grapple with issues that test the most motivated among them—homelessness, strained family relationships, substance abuse. Many return to troubled neighborhoods.

“There are things going on in their lives that we can’t even imagine,” says Cindy Redcross, director of the Center for Criminal Justice Research at MDRC, a nonpartisan think tank that has studied job programs for ex-offenders. “It can be worth the investment as long as you understand going in that they are likely to fail at some point”…..

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