On Episode #98 of Inside the Marketplace, Priest talks with Chris Rickerson, a self made millionaire who now runs Elite Staffing Solutions out of Wichita, KS. Chris has quite the story to tell about his troubled youth and how he was into drugs, getting arrested for a variety of crimes and he even mentioned that spending time in jail actually might have contributed to him becoming a bigger criminal as a necessity of adapting to the people and environment around you.
Chris’ redemption story is quite compelling, especially when you hear him describe all of the trouble he was in but more so because he turned a negative into such a positive by purposely providing second chances for other people that have been in similar trouble. You often hear a lot of skepticism about whether or not criminals can actually ever truly become productive members of society and as has been documented on Inside the Marketplace, that answer is clearly a yes, but there is legitimacy to concerns about recidivism among convicted criminals.
It’s a bit outdated now but a lot of what we know about the frequency of recidivism comes from a 1994 study. The number of released criminals that were convicted of another crime is staggering. Society has differing opinions about the purpose of jail and prison. Often many believe that the experience is meant to be a bleak one, to instill fear of consequence and the only true teaching moment is the realization that what you’ve done has put you in such a terrible place. For some people redemption should come as a repayment of debt to society through said punishment. With the hardening of laws to make it both easier to go to prison (with some dubious incentives for privatization of prisons playing a role) and equally harder to get out of jail (mandatory minimum sentencing, three strikes and you’re out laws, truth in sentencing laws, etc) it seems lawmakers have often taken the same tactic. Not to mention the internet means your past is recorded forever and it makes it much harder to escape errors of your youth or past.
Contrary to that belief system is the thought process that these prisoners will in most cases eventually be released back into society and can’t just spend the years of incarceration locked away being punished. They are losing time in the workforce and ultimately losing skills that will make them productive members of the general public. Rehabilitation means more than just changing attitudes to drive the criminal desire out of someone. It means providing hope via skills and education to these people. Providing them with a sense of pride and encouragement that they are more than their criminal record. As it turns out, employment like what Chris’ staffing company provides potential career paths rather than most of the work release programs which have only slightly, if statistically inconclusively affected recidivism rates.
For example, a study on the recidivism rates for employed inmates via work release programs while seeing a reduce in the hazard rate (the probability that a parolee not re-incarcerated at the beginning of a specified time interval (month) will be re-incarcerated during that interval) of about 17%, didn’t conclude that basic work release employment really kept people out of jail at all. It’s conjecture at best since we don’t have studies to back anything up but most of the jobs work release programs give to parolees are entry level, low paying, low skill positions. Those are jobs that non-criminals don’t typically stay too long in either as they usually have remarkably high turnover rates. When someone burns out at one of these jobs (which can be rather quickly) they go back to other things they know – maybe other side jobs, maybe being a stay at home parent.
For someone whose spent the majority of their lives in jail, crime is what they know best and often ends up being the easiest method of survival. Career roles are quite different though, people tend to stay way longer in a role that they feel compensates them fairly and appreciates their contributions to the company they work for. Applied to a parolee that would give someone a much better chance of not being re-incarcerated due to being occupied with something a bit more fulfilling. Most people are re-incarcerated within the first year of their release. Spending 3-4 years in a career type of job would begin reducing that risk.
Chris provides more than second chances with many of the roles he’s helping these people obtain. He’s helping some of them step into possible career roles and in that sense, he’s a saving grace for many others. We all need to think a little more about second chances in general. We’ve all been dumb and impetuous at some point in our lives, even if that didn’t lead to criminality and none of us are perfect. If all of our closets were opened and our skeletons exposed, would something in there alter other people’s opinions of you? Should that be the way you are judged forever moving forward?