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Ex-offenders in Minnesota are slow-but-growing pipeline for employers

Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

"We look to reduce the number of people revoked from supervised release as way to (reduce) the prison population, which creates greater staff safety and also allows for evidenced-based (solutions) such as drug-and-alcohol or mental health treatment," Walker said.

The Department of Corrections spends about $600 million annually on prison-and-probation services.

Minnesota First Lady Gretchen Walz, a career educator, has made prison reform a mission. She sat in on the job interview of Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, and she encouraged Walker to apply for the deputy commissioner job.

Minnesota prisoners are disproportionately people of color who underachieved in grade school and have drug-or-alcohol issues.

Dan Pfarr, a veteran nonprofit executive who runs 180 Degrees, which includes the Minneapolis halfway-house Clifton Place, gets $68 per person per day to house up to 200 ex-offenders for up to three months. While at Clifton Place they need to get trained and find a job and housing.

"The question becomes how much money drops down to us in community programming," Pfarr said. "We do the monitoring, the drug tests, helping to find (affordable) housing and job training That takes a partnership."

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Since 2017, Pfarr has cut ancillary programs, sold a group home and tried to increase funding from foundations, businesses and anyone who will listen to his hopeful message that community-based housing-and-training agencies can be more successful that prison at helping ex-offenders acquire skills and get jobs in a worker-hungry economy.

"We take guys who have been in prison for six to 20 years and the Department of Corrections gives us (60 to 90 days) to get them housing and a job," said Arriel McDonald, a 180 Degrees case manager. "Most of them are afraid of committing another crime. But the pressure can lead them to mental health issues, drug or alcohol relapses" and back to old habits.

The illicit-drug business can be the best job around for a tough kid in a rough neighborhood.

"I went from being a crack head and a deadbeat dad for years to a taxpayer...," said Chris Harris, 44, who started selling drugs at age 13 and spent 23 years in prison. "I now work two full-time jobs. I went from 'zero to hero' according to my 14-year-old daughter.

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