Gainful employment is an essential component to reducing criminal recidivism.

Gainful employment is an essential component to reducing criminal recidivism.

So say Delaware County judges and probation officials who recently kicked off a new "Second Chance" program designed to increase local employment opportunities for convicted felons.

On April 18, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Everett Krueger and chief probation officer Doug Missman attempted to take that message to employers during an introduction to the new program at the Rutherford B. Hayes Building.

The officials hope that, in addition to seizing upon potential tax benefits, area employers buy into the concept that wayward individuals can get back on track and stay on track by holding down jobs.

"We're really all in the same boat," Missman said. "(Employers) are trying to produce a product (and) our product or service is a quality employee."

Through the program, convicted felons -- mostly those found guilty of non-violent crimes -- participate in "job readiness" training. The instruction includes employers' expectations of quality employees, practice in interviewing for jobs, and establishment of transportation, daycare and other services to ensure the individual can regularly attend work.

Throughout the process, including after employment is gained, court and probation officials meet regularly with the individual to chart progress, address areas of concern and conduct drug and alcohol screenings.

"We have statistics that show 80 percent of people who go back to prison on probation violations are unemployed at the time," Missman said. "For (employers), frankly that doesn't matter much. What you're worried about is having a good employee.

"We can have as much involvement with the people as you want."

Close to 20 people, ranging from employees of county service agencies to potential employers, attended the "Second Chance" kick-off event. Among them was John Finch, vice president of rehabilitation and employment for the Center of Vocational Alternatives, which helps provide treatment and recovery services to clients of the Delaware/Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.

"We try to work with individuals in the community who are eligible through the mental health board, find out what they want to do and match them up with jobs," Finch said. "Job force re-entry, that's a big push.

"We know there's a clear connection between employment and decreasing recidivism. The employment piece is really part of a larger plan for re-entry."

At least one potential employer in attendance said he already employs a convicted felon and hopes others in the community buy into the Second Chance program.

Fred Penhorwood, who owns F & A Electric and is involved in Christian ministry, said the program offers new hope to individuals who otherwise might become career criminals.

"If you can't meet your basic needs, you go back to what you knew before," Penhorwood said. "But I think a lot of people really do want to change."

County officials are hoping to entice prospective employers to participate in the Second Chance program by noting that federal and state tax credits are available to those who hire convicted felons. They added that fidelity bonding is available through the program.

"(Missman) and I have been talking about this, I'd like to say for years, but it's really been a decade," Krueger said. "There's a big move called 're-entry.' We're timing this well because the prisons are full."

Additional information regarding the Second Chance program can be obtained by contacting Delaware County Adult Court Services at (740) 833-2900, or Kelli Bolton, employment counselor for the Delaware County Department of Job and Family Services, at (740) 833-2334.

nellis@thisweeknews.com