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May 27, 2008

"Hire an ex-con in Philly, get a tax break"

The title of this post in the headline given by CNN to this AP piece that talks at length about various reentry issues. Here are the basics:

[T]he city of Philadelphia is making a concerted effort to encourage the hiring of ex-convicts amid a renewed interest nationwide in dealing with high recidivism, growing crime rates and exploding prison populations....

So on his 100th day in office last month, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a program, being headed by an ex-offender, that gives $10,000 a year in municipal tax credits to companies that hire former prisoners and provide them tuition support or vocational training. "This is one of the best crime-prevention programs we'll ever have," he said....

Philadelphia has set aside money for at least 500 potential new hires under the city program, but it's unclear how many businesses will take advantage. Some don't like to publicize their employment of former prisoners.  Others, including banks and child-care centers, are restricted from hiring them. [The Office for the Re-entry of Ex-offenders] is also working with the city prison system to start planning for convicts' re-entries as soon as they are sentenced, rather than waiting until six months before their scheduled releases, as is current practice. "This city government has a responsibility to extend our hand and make sure that we're giving people that second chance," the mayor said.

Among other possible benefits, this tax-based reentry program may get some Law & Econ folks to start writing on sentencing and incarceration policies.  Or, at the very least, these kinds of reentry programs can give Paul Caron at TaxProf an excuse to link here more.

May 27, 2008 at 05:04 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Doug:

It's OK by me, as long as the city program comes with a requirement that customers and employees be able to find out that they'll be dealing with an "ex-offender." The law and economics folks are fond of having full market information. And, after all, the other employees and the customers are likely to be the same people who, as taxpayers, are footing the bill for this program. They should have the right to know where their money is winding up.

But I have to confess that neither of those is the primary reason I want full market information. The primary reason is that, before I fork over my credit card to the clerk behind the counter -- put there via government incentives -- I really, really want to know if he has a record for credit card fraud.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 27, 2008 5:31:16 PM

Of course, one huge problem is the policies of the employers' insurance carriers. Hiring ex-cons will get premiums jscked up or will get insurance cancelled. Of course, we can blame the tort lawyer bar for that, given the proliferation of negligent hiring lawsuits.

Posted by: federalist | May 27, 2008 5:50:16 PM

I want complete disclosure of all

1) Deductions that all companies take;
2) All lawsuits filed against or by the company;
3) All convictions of the officers of the company (and their relatives);
4) Any innuendo about the families of the officers.

This information will enable me to decide which restaurant to go to.

Posted by: S.cotus | May 27, 2008 6:09:05 PM

Lots of luck, S.cotus.

Posted by: federalist | May 27, 2008 7:00:33 PM

S.cotus:

Why innuendo about the families of officers of a restaurant business would help you decide whether to eat there is a bit beyond me, but I hope you'll enjoy dinner tonight, wherever you may find it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 27, 2008 7:16:10 PM

The disclosure of innuendo sounds mutually contradictory, or at least impracticable. I suppose a disclosure statement could say "It has been overheard that the CEO's sister is a lezbo (of the lipstick variety) and that the CFO's wife had a yeast infection the last month of this quarter." But overheard where? Only negative innuendo? If positive innuendo can be reported, and it is by its nature impossible to validate, I'd imagine there'd be a lot of it ("CEO is apparently extremely proficient in bed.").

I think this hire a felon tax break is a great idea, and I'd only add that which felons they hire, their crimes of conviction, and when/where they work should be kept privileged. I wouldn't want people deciding to get "fully informed" so they can boycott businesses based on them hiring ex-cons. Ex-cons need to be able to get jobs, or else they will have no choice but to revert back to crime. You can't be against recidivism and also try to avoid dealing with ex-cons who have served their time and are trying to fit back in to society as law abiding citizens while punishing businesses who take the initiative to hire them. Can't have it both ways.

Posted by: bruce | May 27, 2008 7:40:05 PM

Hopefully they will offer some kind of debriefing like counseling groups or whatever. For drugs. Anger. Whatever the person needs. A venting about the job group might be enough. Many will find "life on the outside" a shock and won't be sure how to deal with everyday personal interactions on the job. We hear about workers going postal now and then, but if any of these guys do, it will be only because they are ex-cons. Great news, but give it enough to really make it work. Maybe they can start the groups themselves without any government interfer- uh, assistance.

Posted by: George | May 27, 2008 8:38:28 PM

Federalist, Unlike you, I am anti-crime, so I don’t want to patronize criminal establishments.

Mr. Otis, I am a very moral person. I do not want to eat at a restaurant that is staffed by illegals or obtains any of its food or services illegally. Also, if any unsavory types frequent the place, I want no part of it.

Posted by: S.cotus | May 27, 2008 11:07:05 PM

S.cotus, are you saying you would not eat at a restaurant that hired ex-cons (assume broad array of crimes represented)?

Posted by: bruce | May 27, 2008 11:32:10 PM

Bruce:

"I think this hire a felon tax break is a great idea, and I'd only add that which felons they hire, their crimes of conviction, and when/where they work should be kept privileged. I wouldn't want people deciding to get "fully informed" so they can boycott businesses based on them hiring ex-cons. Ex-cons need to be able to get jobs, or else they will have no choice but to revert back to crime. You can't be against recidivism and also try to avoid dealing with ex-cons who have served their time and are trying to fit back in to society as law abiding citizens while punishing businesses who take the initiative to hire them. Can't have it both ways."

I hope you won't be offended if I say that I largely agree with you on this, although not entirely.

I agree with your central point that ex-cons have to be able to get jobs or they will be more likely to return to crime. I also agree that a worker should not be avoided simply because he has a record (I'll say more on that at the end of this post).

I do not agree that information about them as participants in this Philly program should be kept privileged. It's a taxpayer-funded project, and taxpayers have the right to know how, specifically, their money is being spent. Nor is a criminal record (except for juveniles) considered privileged. It is, to the contrary, public.

The way to persuade people to deal with ex-cons is just that -- persuasion, not secrecy. Over the long haul, keeping this sort of information from the public will undermine the program. At some point, one of these guys will victimize a customer, and if the ensuing news story is that the ex-con's past was withheld, so the customer never knew he or she was taking a risk, there will be a hue-and-cry to shut the program down.

It is true that some people will boycott businesses that hire the ex-cons. But potential customers have rights too, and one of them is to know with whom they are dealing. If you were thinking about putting a new roof on your house, you might well first call up the Better Business Bureau to find out about the track record of firms you were thinking about hiring. You'd want to know if they finished their work, made good on warranties, and left the stuff in the house alone while the owner was off at the office. You'd also want to know about any legal action prior customers had taken against the firm. This would not make you a bigot. It would make you reasonably prudent.

The same reasoning applies here.

Having said that, it is true, as you say, that some people will boycott the business without giving the ex-cons a chance. This is unfortunate, but it is the price of living in an open society. And simply because SOME will boycott does not mean that ALL will. If a business participating in the program establishes over time that its workers are honest, it will prosper. As I say, customers will be more trusting in the long run if they know they got, or at least were able to get, full disclosure up front. And a trusting customer is a customer who brings his business back.

Fair-minded people understand that not all ex-cons are the same. I am a former AUSA, and not anyone's version of Mr. Smileyface. But I have an fellow working for me now in a position great trust who spent time in state prison. When he was young he was wild, and had the extremely bad judgment to get in a fistfight with the police. But I got to know this guy, and he is as honest and honorable a person as you could want to meet (he has also learned to stay calm). He is now my house manager for the house I have on the East Coast, and he and his wife live there, with access to everything, while I am in Hawaii for the winter.

I did not start to trust this man because he hid his past from me. I started to trust him because he didn't.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 28, 2008 9:29:58 AM

Bill, why would I ever be offended if you agreed with me? I encourage everyone to be right :)

You have more faith in your fellow man than I do. I simply don't think people, given the knowledge and thus the choice that restaurant/bank/daycare center A hires ex-cons and B does not, would ever willingly patronize place A when B is equally available - which you do acknowledge. Thus every place who took the initiative to hire ex-cons, which you agree is necessary for them not to return to crime, would lose customers and either go out of business or be forced to fire all the ex-cons.

The only way to make it work is to keep the info privileged. I think we largely agree, and only disagree on the extent that people would boycott businesses using ex-cons. I think the boycotting would be massive and make hiring ex-cons prohibitive, while you think it would be a factor but one that might be offset by the tax break (I assume).

For what it's worth, I do not like the idea of hiding information from people. It's rare that I'd take such a position. But here, if we want to keep ex-cons in jobs and out of prison, I think it's the only viable option. And even then I'm sure rumors will spread about who is hiring ex-cons, causing a substantive loss in business.

But props to you for hiring an ex-con, particularly since you were a former AUSA.

Posted by: bruce | May 28, 2008 10:06:15 AM

I was just thinking...

I agree with your central point that ex-cons have to be able to get jobs or they will be more likely to return to crime.

Is there anyone who actually does not agree with that? I don't mean to sound snooty or elitist (though I often do), and surely not infallible. But is there actually a "ex-cons shouldn't be able to get jobs" crowd out there? I can't say I've heard of it, but I think they might exist and just do one particular job/career at a time. Cons shouldn't be able to teach. Cons shouldn't be able to fill gas. Cons shouldn't be able to work in restaurants... etc. But surely they are aware that that will cause more recidivism. I think they see that as a valid goal, though. Don't let them get a job, force them back into crime, and lock them up again this time with enhanced sentences. I really do think that's the goal of many people (is there any other conclusion to draw from american attitudes towards punishment?). But I don't think anyone is saying to not let them get jobs, and that won't affect recidivism.

Posted by: bruce | May 28, 2008 10:47:32 AM

There is one flaw in your logic, Mr. Bill. A boycott starts somewhere and it usually starts with one person who enlists the help of another and then it spreads. If they pass out fliers to spread the word, the "supervisor" will not sign his name to those fliers. And if those fliers only included the code of the statutory conviction you would be right. Only public information (though there used to be a strong privacy interest after a time). But how scary is that? They have to enhance upon the code to stir up enough emotion. Let's face it, boycotts are most often emotional. They would have to incite enough fear to boycott the business. Any enhancement of fact, fear mongering opinion, is beyond merely public information. The ex-con's only remedy with the use of exaggeration is a slander/libel suit. Fat chance of that. So what would too often happen is a) an anonymous "supervisor" incites the boycott (in principle, contrary to full disclosure) b) there is exaggeration or opinion beyond the mere statute of conviction, c) this exaggeration is charged enough to incite a boycott, d) the ex-con or employer for all intents and purposes has no remedy.

So I'd only agree with you if the ex-con has a remedy when the boycott is more than factual. For an example, say the justification for the boycott is that someone else with the same or similar statutory crime committed a murder, and therefore this ex-con was too likely to commit a murder. Panic! Boycott! Something like yelling fire in a theater.

The ex-con should be able to sue the "supervisor" of the boycott for founding the boycott on more than the specific facts pertaining to the specific ex-con. Put another way, the boycott should not allow any more "facts" than the codes of conviction, in keeping with your definition of public records above. Though it may be a fact that someone else with a similar record committed a murder, that is libel/slander when applied to this ex-con and the specific danger to the employer's customers. Both ex-con and employer should be able to sue. There is no other remedy.

Posted by: George | May 28, 2008 10:52:04 AM

Bruce:

It's all true. I don't have horns after all, at least not all the time. Rats!

Thanks for your note.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 28, 2008 10:52:27 AM

I did not start to trust this man because he hid his past from me. I started to trust him because he didn't.

Well said Bill. On every job I have ever interviewed for I made it a priority to inform my future employer about my past mistakes.

Posted by: noway | May 28, 2008 2:16:50 PM

Noway:

A hat tip to you.

A wise man once told me that it's not what happens to you, it's how you handle it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 28, 2008 3:49:23 PM

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