Connecticut looks to former inmates to fill trucking jobs

Desperate for truck drivers, Connecticut’s state Senate recently passed legislation creating a public-private partnership that would require the Department of Correction to make space and technology available to administer CDL testing to inmates scheduled for release within six months.

Transportation Committee Co-Chair Will Haskell said the prison-to-work pipeline bill addresses both high recidivism and the truck driver shortage.

“This bill is a win for incarcerated individuals, and it’s a win for their families, it’s a win for society,” he said. “It advances social justice and economic prosperity … It helps to address the supply chain shortage by providing a robust workforce for an industry that is struggling,” he told the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

Committee ranking member Sen. Heather Somers said the legislation helps solve “the problem of having incarcerated folks be able to find work.”

“We are filling the need of the supply chain and we are working together across agencies to make this work,” she said.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) says trucking companies are facing a driver shortage of 80,000 that will climb to 160,000 by 2030.

Trucking firms are actively recruiting new drivers with higher salaries and sign-on bonuses. Wal-Mart recently announced it was raising the average starting salaries for first-year drivers from $88,000 to the $95-110,000 range.

In Minnesota, state, and federal governments, as well as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, are collaborating with employers to find job opportunities for those with a criminal record.

“It’s really important for the business community to have a proactive and forward-leaning orientation during a time of true crisis as it relates to our workforce,” Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, recently told employers during a conference announcing a new statewide initiative designed to help employers tap non-traditional labor pools.

Traditionally, a few manufacturers and construction companies were open to hiring those with a criminal record. But state and nonprofit officials at a recent workforce conference said employers in the health care and hospitality sectors have hired from this pool for the first time, reported the Casper Star-Tribune.

“More employers are tapping into this specific labor pool because of the job shortages,” said Jeremiah Carter, program manager of Minnesota’s CareerForce jobs services program. “They are willing to explore hiring people with criminal backgrounds. It really is an untapped market, and you will definitely get quality employees and individuals who are loyal if they are given the opportunity.”

In Miami, Florida International University’s Corrections Transitional Program (FIU-CTP) offers a select number of prisoners serving life sentences a chance at the future.

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) eliminated parole for lifers in 1995, but anyone receiving a life sentence prior to that year is eligible for release after serving the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Founded in 1999 by Marta Villacorta, then-warden of the South Florida Reception Center, and FIU criminal justice professor Regina B. Shearn, the FIU-CTP program prepares long-term prisoners who are eligible for parole to go back into society.

Currently, the Florida Commission on Offender Review (FCOR) has authority over approximately 3,900 parole-eligible prisoners. Its examiners have the authority to release them via the FIU-CTP program at the Everglades facility.

The societal benefits to prison-to-work programs are significant, according to the think tank Brookings Institution.

“Obtaining employment is, as noted earlier, challenging for those involved in the correctional system due to the relatively low levels of educational attainment and the presence of a felony conviction. Having a job, however, has been shown to reduce recidivism, and individuals are less likely to commit crimes when they have stable, full-time employment,” a recent Brookings Report stated. “Increasing access to quality academic education and occupational skills-based training that builds a skill base to meet the needs of the current labor market will significantly increase access to sustainable post-prison employment opportunities,” they added.