Sunday, June 12, 2011

IBJ Hits Ballard's Re-Entry Program

Awhile back, I criticized Mayor Greg Ballard's re-entry program for ex-offenders that had made the City an affirmative action hirer of persons with criminal records. The head of the program boasts that 10% of all new positions filled by the city in 2010 went to persons with criminal records. The IBJ's Francesca Jarosz has a story in the latest edition that is highly critical of the program. "[S]ome of those original supporters say the city's Office of Re-entry Initiatives not only has fallen short of that goal but has accomplished little else," Jarosz writes. In a lengthy story, Jarosz speaks to several persons who have worked in the Ballard administration, including former Deputy Public Safety Director Mark Renner, who think the office's goals could be better carried out by nonprofit agencies. "The critics say the office, which is already on its third director [in three years], has struggled because of a lack of a clear mission, failure among leaders in its office to accept advice, and power struggles among city staffers.

Not surprisingly, the critics tell Jarosz Deputy Mayor of Neighborhoods Olgen Williams is a big part of the problem. "There were constant battles over whether the office should be under the control of Olgen Williams, who served a year for a federal embezzlement charge and takes the issue personally, or Renner in public safety," Jarosz said. "That conflict stymied efforts to get things done." She indicates the struggle for control continued after the hiring of Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who declined to comment on the conflicts. Williams formed an advisory committee of 45 persons she says, but the meetings "were poorly run--without an agenda or purpose." She says Williams rebuffed efforts by Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation to provide technical assistance to the city's program. Eventually, many of the persons appointed to the advisory committee stopped attending the meetings due to the lack of direction. Her article mentions failed efforts to win grant monies and its non-cooperation with the Department of Correction in placing mentors to coach newly-released inmates from Indianapolis. When Jarosz questioned Ballard about the city's failed efforts, Ballard became very defensive.

He touted the 30 ex-offenders the city hired in 2010 and the $1.25 million the city awarded in crime-prevention grants toward re-entry service providers this year.
"The city has never addressed this complex issue at the level we are," Ballard said.
"There are going to be fits and starts and problems along the way. But we have a lot of partners on board, and the broader picture is, we are going to continue to address this issue because it is important."
Jarosz has some very telling statistics that indicate just how much of a bust the program has been. There are more than 5,000 ex-offenders released back into the general population in Marion County each year. More than 53% return to prison within 3 years. Only 29 people have participated in a jobs transition program funded with a nearly $1 million federal grant. While 10 found jobs, nine left the program before it was over and the rest remain unemployed. Only 53 ex-offenders have been mentored by the city's First Day Out program. Of those, 15 have already returned to prison or faced new criminal charges.

1 comment:

Paul K. Ogden said...

How long is it before a news media outlet starts looking into the criminal records of the people hired by the City? I'm all for giving people a second chance when deserving, but an affirmative action program for criminals?