With its relatively strong economy, Washington State attracts job seekers in many categories. Finding employment for ex-felons is always challenging even in a state like Washington, which is the nation’s fourth largest exporter. People without criminal records will always be given priority, and to some extent, there is discrimination against former convicts. Some ex-felons returning to their communities do get jobs, but this is not generally an easy task.
As one would expect, jobs for felons in Washington State are most likely minimum wage options. Most ex-felons are simply not in a position to pick and choose employment opportunities, being forced to take what is available. Taking courses in prison improves your chances of finding jobs when you are released. Those who had achieved higher education before being convicted also have a bit of an advantage.
Finding Employment for Ex-felons
The federal government has taken steps to assist ex-felon to find employment in Washington. One of these is the Washington Bonding Program (http://www.wa.gov/esd/oes/bond/default.htm) which encourages employers to take on the kinds of workers they would generally consider risky. It operates on an individual basis for each applicant and there is no cost to the employer for the first six months. The employer is guaranteed compensation for any loss suffered due to hiring at-risk workers.
The Hire Tax Credit, while not specifically meant to benefit ex-felons, could be useful to them just the same. The bill, Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiring_Incentives_to_Restore_Employment_Act),
was signed into law in March 2010, and offers incentives and payroll tax waivers to businesses that hire the unemployed. Similarly, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (http://www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/) provides an incentive to hire people who have difficulty finding employment for one reason or another. Depending on the employees, the business could earn tax credits ranging from $1,200 to $9,600.
The workforce development (http://pretrial.wawd.uscourts.gov/Workforce/index.html) website is a useful tool for an ex-inmate looking for work. It covers a number of areas of interest to job seekers such as:
- Interviewing skills
- Transportation to interviews
- Information on employment agencies
- Job forums
- Job fairs
- Preparing applications and resumes
The AARP Foundation Worksearch (http://www.aarpworksearch.org/Pages/Default.aspx) targets older workers, and its free services are open to ex-felons. It has offices in both Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Applicants are employed in community service and they receive one on one help with setting up a plan for training and finding employment. It is worth noting that this organization has a high placement rate for participants in the program.
The 4People website (http://www.4people.org/) is a vital ex-offender resource that operates in each county in Washington State. It provides a detailed list of resources in spreadsheet format. This information is regularly updated to keep it current. Ex-felons can follow the posted links based on their county to find out what type of help is available. The spreadsheet lists the agency or organization, the phone numbers, addresses and most importantly, what kind of assistance each agency offers. This includes education, housing and help with food bills.
Housing for Felons in Washington
While the 4People organization can provide assistance with finding housing, there are also other ways for an ex-felon to find housing. Felons can try to rent directly from apartment owners. As long as they are truthful on their applications, the renter may be sympathetic, so this move is not discouraged even if it seems like a long shot.
The felonfriendly.org (http://felonyfriendly.org/services/housing.html#axzz2tJozHKSo) provides information on housing for felons in various states. It provides information on where to find houses, apartments or condos that are available for rent to this group. This network also provides information about available community programs, jobs and legal services that is of valve to former inmates. Online forums such as the Experience Project ( http://www.experienceproject.com/groups/A-Convicted-Felon/61313) and the city-data.com (www.city-data.com) could also yield results in a search for housing. Any felon who joins a support group will be able to speak to counsellors and other felons to get help in finding suitable housing.
Felons in Washington State can also utilize the Section 8 program (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/washington/renting) under the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to find housing. The non-discriminatory nature of this government program can work in a felon’s favor, but some convictions will make some ex-felons ineligible for benefits. Based on its mandate, HUD subsidizes rental houses, making it possible for low-income individuals to afford a place to live. The website makes it easy to locate Public Housing Agencies (http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/pha/contacts/states/wa.cfm) by listing their addresses and phone numbers. This helps to simplify the search for houses for ex-felons.
Finding housing and a job are the most pressing needs of the recently released. As such, ex-felons will need to take advantage of available help if they intend to make a fresh start after leaving prison. It is a good idea to contact charities directly, as many of them try to help people with criminal records.