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Agency launches campaign to promote hiring of ex-offenders

By Amanda Becker
Monday, June 21, 2010; 11

The federal agency tasked with supervising parolees as they reintegrate into the District has launched an aggressive media campaign that asks area business leaders to articulate what it will take for them to hire offenders.

During a taped segment, which is posted on the agency's Web site and YouTube channel and will air on local television stations, officials from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency discuss the incentives available to businesses that hire individuals who have spent time in the criminal justice system. The agency also asks for comment from employers. There are also six radio segments in the works that will include interviews with both employers and offenders.

"We don't know what the response is going to be; what we're trying to do is crowd source the issue of hiring offenders," said Leonard Sipes Jr., a public affairs specialist with the agency and host of the program. "This project is about tapping into the knowledge of the business community and finding out what their bottom line is ... they know better than anybody else what they need, what they want, who they'll hire and who they won't hire."

At any given time there are roughly 16,000 people in the District under the agency's supervision and though the unemployment rate of the group has dropped from 50 to 47 percent over the past six months as the economy has improved, Sipes said reintegrating into the District presents some unique challenges.

"The District of Columbia is a very difficult market to operate in," Sipes said. "It has one of the highest per-capita rates for having a bachelor's degree and advanced degree, it's a city that attracts people from all over the United States and all over the world."

Both the television segment and the agency's Web site point out that there are economic benefits to hiring offenders, including tax credits and federal bonding, which is a free bond that mitigates any potential risk or loss that could result from hiring an individual through the agency. If an offender stole money or property, for example, the employer would be reimbursed. The tax credit can be worth up to $2,400 per worker.

"We're approaching this [media campaign] from a business point of view. We're simply saying that we can provide good employees and we can help you maintain those employees if a problem arises," Sipes said.

More information about hiring offenders and the agency's television and radio segments are available on the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency Web site.

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