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DeWine encourages businesses to look at Ohio's formerly incarcerated population to fill jobs

a letter board sign outdoors reads "workers wanted apply within"
A small business seeking workers.

On average, 18,000 people are released from Ohio's prisons each year, and for those thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals, finding steady employment can be a difficult task.

At the same time, businesses across Ohio have been struggling to fill open positions for years, which is why Gov. Mike DeWine says now is the right time to encourage employers in the state to consider hiring more formerly incarcerated people.

On Thursday, DeWine visited Cincinnati's Queen City Club to speak with business leaders about the state of Ohio's workforce and the role employers can have in improving communities.

"We live in a time when we need every worker we can find," DeWine said. "It's also obviously in our self interest for that person not to go back to prison. It's an expensive proposition. We don't want them back into crime. We want them to live their dream."

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DeWine says many people recently released from prison have trouble finding good jobs, housing, and reliable transportation, but that's starting to change. The governor highlighted the work being done by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction's reentry program which connects people behind bars with educational opportunities and job training as soon as they enter prison.

Roni Burkes-Trowsell, deputy director of the Department of Corrections Office of Reentry, says getting people connected early is the key to success after release.

"Reentry starts at reception," Burkes-Trowsell said. "We offer educational opportunities at all of our facilities. We have college at all 28 prisons regardless of security level. We offer vocational training."

By utilizing these programs, formerly incarcerated people can have more success when they enter the workforce. Still, the stigma around hiring them is a major barrier for some businesses. That's why DeWine says he wants to get the word out about Ohio's reentry program and the success other businesses have had with employees who have been convicted.

"I think that the best way to reduce the stigma that is there is for businesses that have hired someone who is an ex-convict, someone who has a felony conviction to speak up and say 'It worked for us,' " DeWine said.

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Business leaders at the event, including representatives form Cincinnati-based companies Kroger and Nehamiah Manufactuing, touted their hiring programs and claimed their formerly incarcerated workers had some of the highest retention numbers.

While DeWine acknowledged there's a lot of work to be done, he encouraged businesses around Ohio to look at the work being done by other companies with these hiring programs and see if it can work for their business. He says companies everywhere need workers and there's a population ready and willing to take on the challenge.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.