30-2-2. It’s a simple concept. Just get 30 companies to hire two workers leaving jail or prison and track their progress for two years. The idea is so simple, in fact, that it’s surprising that more communities haven’t adopted it. But maybe more would, if only they were aware of how this program works and the benefits it can offer.
It all started in Western Michigan. Specialty butter producer Butterball Farms, Cascade Engineering and Grand Rapids Community College launched the first 30-2-2 program in 2012. That initial effort has grown to include 23 employers.
A consultant helped recruit the companies to get the program going, but in more recent years, local businesses have become involved by word of mouth, according to Carrie Link, personal assistant to Butterball Farms CEO and its 30-2-2 coordinator.
First program started with a couple of employers
“We started with one or two companies that hired these people, they told other companies that the people are good workers, and it spread,” she says.
During the first two years – 2014 to 2016 – 1,709 people were placed through the program, which is now in the midst of its second cycle that ends in July. Although there’s no 30-2-2 training course, some agencies that supply the candidates have their own training programs.
What are the main challenges for a program like 30-2-2?
“It’s dealing with the stigma surrounding people coming out of the prison system,” Link says. “Companies will say, ‘we don’t hire those kinds of people. He’s had a violent crime, so he’s going to be violent.’ But that’s not true, and the facts back that up. The challenge is how to educate the community of people who can hire these people.”
New Orleans 30-2+2 Reentry Collaborative launched by U.S. Attorney’s Office
While the original 30-2-2 was a private sector program created by local business leaders, the 30-2+2 Reentry Collaborative in New Orleans was launched by Kenneth Polite, the former district attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Louisiana, to help improve public safety, reduce recidivism and provide talent to local employers.
In the beginning the program drew participants from a unique program at Angola – also known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary – and continues to do so. Low level drug offenders can be sentenced to serve their time at Angola and participate in a reentry program that offers 19 areas of hard skills training in which they can get certificates in things like welding or refrigeration. The program also includes 100 hours of soft skills training,
When the 30-2+2 Reentry Collaborative began, the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court identified the potential reentry candidates. It has expanded dramatically, however. “Now every parish criminal court in the state of Louisiana is authorized to send inmates to the program,” says Poiite.
Many Angola inmates are lifers who have gone through various trainings, and some of those lifers become mentors for the reentry program participants.
“The only way you could graduate from the reentry program was if the mentor determined that you were prepared to return back to society,’ says Polite. “And because we saw that mentor component being so important behind bars, we thought it would be equally important to have mentors while individuals were back on the street and engaging in employment.”
Although current 30-2+2 mentors are recruited from the local business community, many of the original mentors were formerly incarcerated employees of Goodwill Industries. The Angola program served as the pipeline for employee candidates, and the original employers were first solicited at a New Orleans Chamber of Commerce symposium. It took a few months for the first employer, Harrah’s Casino, to come onboard, and a bit of “arm twisting” for others to follow.
“We said the that these (people released from Angola) are fairly safe bets for you and that they would turn out to be successful employees given the effort that they made behind bars,” Polite says.
Polite says that other communities considering starting one of these programs need to know “that a lot of these individuals really want to be successful. They’re often walking out of prison with some training, soft skills and rehabilitation behind them. They are finding doors closed in their faces over and over again. If employers are willing to take the chance, these are very loyal and very hard-working individuals.”
They make good employees, but they also offer special challenges. “Employers have to be patient. They’re going to have challenges in terms of such obligations as court proceedings and probation hearings. An employer has to allow people to get their lives back together,” Polite says.
Latest program created in southern Illinois
The 30-2-2 program in Michigan and 30-2+2 Reentry Collaborative in Louisiana inspired Chris Hoell, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, to create a similar program. He was actually brought on to his current job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fairview Heights Ill., as one of 90 reentry and prevention coordinators hired across the country. These were all a part of the Obama administration’s Attorney General’s Smart on Crime Initiative.
Hoell’s office began placing employees in positions in August, after a year of a consultant running around the area knocking on about 250 employers’ doors. Hoell sat in on meetings with those who were having reservations and with the bigger companies. His territory covers the lower 36 counties of the state of Illinois, a region that ranges from rural farm communities to East St. Louis, one of nation’s most poverty stricken and highest crime areas.
At press time, 33 employers had signed up, and Hoell was in talks with several more, including Amazon.
“Some companies were immediately on board. I was surprised by that. Others had reservations. How would it look to their employees and customers? Would there be an increase in crime or theft? The normal things people are worried about but statistics don’t back them up,” he says.
To find employees, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is partnering with the probation department and asking the probation officers to recommend candidates.
“One of our selling points (to hiring managers) is the people we want to send you have a probation officer. They have a requirement to work. They’re being drug tested. If you have a problem you can call the probation department,” Hoell says.
In addition, the Illinois Bureau of Prisons has well established training programs, and people are coming out with certificates in various trades. “Most people who want to work have availed themselves of everything they could either while in prison or after they got out,” Hoell adds.
What it takes to start a 30-2-2 program
“The biggest thing you need is sweat equity – to get out and knock on doors and educate people,” he says. “There are plenty of people getting out of prison who have no desire to go back. It’s finding those employers who are willing to take a chance and make the connection happen.”
Once the connection is made, employers have been satisfied with the hires. “We’ve had nothing but positive feedback, but they’re always taking a chance. What I stress is that everyone is not just a felon, but a person with a story and a background. These people have so much to lose. And beyond that, most workplace violence is committed by people without any criminal background.”
Hoell hopes that more people will do what he did. “I would encourage anyone who has an interest to do it. It took a lot of work and help from other people, but there’s nothing special about me or my background to make this happen. And there’s a need for it everywhere,” he says.
Those interested in starting their own
Communities interested in starting their own 30-2-2 program may wish to contact one of the already existing programs highlighted in this article.
Finding a few key initial potential employers will take a bit of effort but will form the foundation for a program. It will take a lot of networking and knocking on doors, and it might be easier to hire a consultant to help with this endeavor.
To source employee candidates, contact local area probation and parole offices and reentry organizations. The Lionheart Foundation maintains a state-by-state database of reentry programs that could be helpful.