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Jobs program aims to keep released felons from returning to prison

Tino Jones started with Better Futures Minnesota in 2018.

“I was lost, looking for structure,” he said.

He is now a manager with the program and credits it with providing the services and support that helped him from returning to prison, becoming a homeowner, getting married, and becoming a productive member of society.

He is one of the fortunate ones.

People released from prison can still face a different kind of punishment when they have trouble finding a job due to their criminal history. And statistics show that unemployment is a major factor in higher recidivism rates.

Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura (DFL-Mpls) would like to interrupt that pathway back to prison as the sponsor of HF489 that would increase funding for a back-to-work program for recently released inmates.

“These are people that have done their time, they are coming back into the community, and the community is better when they are successful,” she said.

The bill would appropriate $425,000 in fiscal year 2024 and $425,000 in fiscal year 2025 from the workforce development fund to Better Futures Minnesota to provide job skills training to felony-level individuals who within 12 months of their release date. The organization received $300,000 in fiscal years 2022 and 2023  and $150,000 annually in the 2020-21 biennium.

The House Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over Wednesday for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

An annual report on spending and outcomes would be due to the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The Better Futures Minnesota program serves more than 100 men per year, offering 12 training certifications, mostly in industrial and construction industries, plus support in career planning, finding stable housing and reliable transportation, and getting treatment for mental health issues and chemical addiction, said executive director PJ Hubbard.

“Most of our men have little to no work experience, and for some, employment with Better Futures Minnesota is their first full-time job,” he said.

Sencer-Mura said the recidivism rate for men who have been employed through Better Futures Minnesota for at least one year is just 5%, compared to an average rate of 65% for released felons who don’t get such support.

“That has been a huge return on investment,” Sencer-Mura said. Plus it saves the state money by lowering the costs of reincarceration and reducing the workload of district courts, among other benefits to society.

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