One of the most important steps in making our communities safer is to give people who return from prison a vested interest in their community. Nothing does that better then a job, so hiring an ex-con makes your community a safer place to live. More often than not, they are excellent employees.
A few years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts manager Luke Halloran had some tough jobs to fill at a store he ran in one of Chicago’s sketchiest areas. It had been robbed several times, a body had been found in a nearby trash container, and employees hired locally enjoyed giving away the store’s products to their friends.
Halloran had an idea: He would hire an ex-con from a local halfway house — someone with the street smarts to feel comfortable working in a dangerous neighborhood. It worked so well, he hired more when he opened up a store of his own. Now a third of his employees are past and present guests of the state — and Halloran says the former convicts are among his best employees. "They never miss a day, get drug tested and will work any shift," he says.
Hiring ex-felons is an experiment that hundreds of business owners have tried — and one that state and federal governments have supported with tax breaks. Uncle Sam offers businesses a credit of up to 40 percent of income taxes on the first $6,000 of wages paid to each former inmate they hire, a deal similar to those offered for hiring from other targeted categories, like welfare recipients and the disabled. "I give them the second chance they wouldn’t get," says Halloran, who has worked in the Dunkin’ Donuts system since 1975.
For the most part, the ex-cons are humbled by circumstances and grateful for any job they can get. "’Oh, thank you for giving me this job!’ isn’t something you hear from the general population," says Karim Khowaja, who operates 16 Dunkin’ Donuts in downtown Chicago and has hired at least six ex-cons in the past 18 months. "They are very humble." Apparently, working a coffee counter, sweeping floors or doing anything useful is better than being restricted to a half-way house — a step up from prison, but not a leap. What’s more, keeping a steady job is generally the only way an inmate can leave transitional housing and earn, say, a weekend pass to visit family. Intrigued, we went to Chicago to meet Halloran’s crew and check in with other area business owners who have taken similar steps…
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