Employers step in the shoes of ex-offenders - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Employers step in the shoes of ex-offenders

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The U.S. Attorney's office is making a push for employers to hire more ex-offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Through a simulation at Hawkeye Community College, employers were able to step into the shoes of an ex-offender and understand the obstacles they face in their transition from prison back into the community. 

Anthony Arrington, a branch manager at Manpower, a recruiting and staffing firm, participated in the simulation. Arrington played the role as an ex-offender who used to be a drug user. 

"I was a drug user so I have to go to treatment as part of my probation," said Arrington. "And I have to pay for that, and I have to pay for transportation to get there and I have to pay my fee."

Arrington says he's hired ex-con's in the past and part of his decision to come to the simulation was his belief in helping these ex-offenders get back on their feet. 

"I believe in the mission," said Arrington. "I believe people need a second chance and so it's important that they all go through this and see for themselves."

The program, hosted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa, is designed to create empathy and an understanding for ex-offenders when they seek out employment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Lightfoot, of Cedar Rapids, says these simulations are part of the office's commitment to reducing recidivism.

"Employment is one of the biggest indicators of whether someone who's being released from prison is able to stay on their feet and live a law-abiding life," said Lightfoot. "Without a job, people fall back on their old habits. They hang out with the people they used to hang out with. They have nothing to do with their time, and that tends to be re-engaging into a criminal lifestyle."

Lightfoot says if employers can take some of the obstacles that exist in the simulations and transfer them over to the real world, they'll be able to prevent these ex-cons from re-entering the system. 

Arrington quickly learned how difficult it was to navigate the world as an ex-offender, bouncing back in and out of jail, staying clean, and scrambling to pay for rent or transportation. 

"You know where I grew up, I've seen these experiences in real life with people I know," said Arrington. "But having to go through it myself is pretty eye-opening."

The simulation is part of the Department of Justice's National Reentry Week, which begins April 24th. Cedar Valley Iowa WORKS, Employers Council of Iowa, and Hawkeye Community College all sponsored the simulation. 

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