Connecticut law enforcement officials urge employers to consider ex-offenders
NEW HAVEN >> It’s been just over two months since Patrick Mortley, 53, left prison for what he says will be the last time.In a matter of weeks since his release on Feb. 20, Mortley got a job as the safety officer on the Green, and he couldn’t be prouder.“It’s uplifting when I can walk someone to their car at night,” he said, adding that the same people he helps now may have been scared of him on the Green in the past. “When (someone) sees my uniform now, they feel safe,” he said. “Do you know what that feels like?”
Mortley spoke on the final panel at a second chance event held for employers at Gateway Community College Thursday morning as someone who could give witness to the power of giving an ex-offender a second chance.
Hire One: Give Someone with a Criminal Record a Second Chance was hosted by the U.S. attorney’s office and was an opportunity for employers in the private sector to hear about the work being done by law enforcement to help former offenders re-enter society, as well as testimony from people who have hired people who have previously been incarcerated.
“This is not just about doing the right thing, it’s about creating safer communities,” Deirdre Daly, U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, said in her opening remarks. “We support reentry. We believe in reentry.”
Daly said approximately 600,000 people leave state and federal prisons every year across the country and within a year of release roughly 60 percent are arrested again.
“This is not sustainable from any perspective you want to look at it,” she said.
From a law enforcement perspective, Daly said the U.S. attorney’s office has undergone a transition in the last few years to be more focused on reentry and not just processing cases of convicted felons and moving on.
The U.S. attorney’s office has a Reentry & Community Outreach Coordinator, retired New Haven police Capt. Holly Wasilewski, to assist ex-offenders.
Assistant U.S. attorneys in her office are also a part of the state’s first Reentry Court, run by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer. The program is meant for people leaving prison with a history of violent crime and provides them with resources and support in looking for jobs, managing family relationships, and readjusting to the community.
Meyer said that during Reentry Court meetings, held every other Wednesday in open court at 4:30 p.m., he does not wear a robe or take the bench. He said it’s important for him not to do that so they know that he’s not talking to them as a judge, who is tasked with determining the sentence of a criminal, but rather as a person who is concerned about their future.
“Our goal is to show them honor, dignity, and respect,” Meyer said.
At the local level, New Haven Acting Police Chief Anthony Campbell said the department is aware of when former offenders are reentering the community from prison. He said it’s a goal of the department to reach out to those individuals and support them on their journeys.
Campbell said he often tells his officers that if former offenders are arrested again, the department has failed them.
“We can be a source of hope for them,” he said. “When we talk about reentry, we’re not just talking about statistics. We’re talking about people’s lives.”
On the employer side, the event’s keynote speaker, Kevin Myatt, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Yale New Haven Health, said it’s up to employers to be willing to give people a second chance.
“The people who have been incarcerated … those individuals are looking for an opportunity,” Myatt said. “What if we said to them, ‘We believe in you.’”
Yale New Haven Health has the Having an Opportunity to Prepare for Employment (H.O.P.E.) Program that Myatt said has helped more than 400 people get trained in various jobs. About 10 percent of those participants have been former offenders, he said.
Dan Jusino, executive director of EMERGE Connecticut, also spoke at the event and said that he hires former offenders because he gets a high return on his investment. He said people coming out of prison have something to prove, families to work for and support, and are highly motivated to get their lives back on track, and all of those qualities make for good employees.
EMERGE staff are all former offenders, Jusino said, and they are willing to do work that others will not — including planting trees in the pouring rain this week or cutting concrete to help make bioswales for the city in frigid temperatures this winter.
“The more I invest in these folks, the better return I get,” Jusino said. “There’s a genuine desire and motivation to work.”
Prior to going on stage for a panel discussion about getting out of prison and trying to reenter society, Mortley said he has been in and out of prison since 1988 because of criminal activity mostly fueled by substance abuse. He said his biggest fear, even now after he has already gotten a job, is that someone will throw out a job application because he is a former offender.
“I still fear that question,” Mortley said prior to taking the stage. “It’s a stigmatization that can run you back to jail.”