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Finding dependable workers is becoming more difficult for Moniteau County industries.

Finding a job to support themselves is one of the keys to ex-offenders not returning to Missouri's prisons.

So, the Moniteau County Regional Economic Development (MRED) board jumped at the opportunity to work with the Missouri Re-entry Process through the Department of Corrections.

Moniteau County is "more progressive" than other counties in working with the nine-month-old program focused on reducing recidivism by connecting offenders coming out of prisons with potential employers, re-entry coordinator Shelle Jacobs said.

"We have seen a lot of success," she said. "It's the right thing to do."

MRED CEO/President Mike Kelley also is looking to tie-in the new apprenticeship grant by connecting ex-offenders returning to Moniteau County with local jobs.

"It's my belief there's a lot of fantastic workers" coming out of prison, Kelley said. "We need to do things to plug them back into society.

"They can live off tax dollars in prison or get back out and be contributing members of society — this is a win-win. This holds great potential to help the work force here."

The Missouri Re-entry Process does not relocate ex-offenders when they're released, rather it works with employers in the area the offender returns to, often their hometown or where their family lives.

In a recent two-month period, six offenders were released to Moniteau County. Another 17 were released to Morgan County and 19 to Cole County, as well as 12 each to Cooper and Miller counties.

So the process helps identify potential employers in the inmate's home plan and then tries to create an opportunity for employment. Neither the employer nor ex-offender are required to participate.

The employer can set his own limits. And ex-offenders apply for a job, just like any other job-seeker. But, the Missouri Re-entry Process has set up the ability for them to do interview via a live video chat.

Not all inmates who are released are work-ready, Jacobs clarified. But, the department tries to prepare them while incarcerated with education, skills training and certifications.

The Probation and Parole office also has an important role after an inmate is released and has a job at a local employer, serving as a partner to help the ex-offender succeed rather than an authoritarian monitoring for mistakes.

For the employer, the ex-offender has higher accountability, like no drugs and regular check-ins with his probation officer.

To make this work requires a shift in the culture, Jacobs said. After an inmate has served out his sentence, the "discipline" part of his rehabilitation is ended and community members will have to learn to incorporate the ex-offenders back into their world, Jacobs said, whether it's work, church, recreation or social venues.

"If we don't do something to turn this recidivism cycle around, we're going to be in trouble," Jacobs said. "I'd rather have an offender released with a job and paying taxes than in jail the rest of his life."

Making enough money to support themselves and their families is one of the top causes for ex-offender to become repeat offenders, she said. A lot of times, they can only find part-time jobs with no benefits.

Other barriers for ex-offenders are transportation and low-income housing availability.

The Missouri Re-entry Process is focused on investment at the front-end, before and when an offender is released. With connections from their first day out, they are more likely to get on their feet and have higher chances of success, she said.

Faith-based groups have been a great resource for the project, Jacobs said.

"They do so many good things for this population," she said. "Without them, there would be more struggling."

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