For many former inmates looking to readjust to life after prison, making the transition and finding economic stability is a challenge.
However, the student organization PassGo has worked for the past two years to change that reality by connecting ex-offenders with potential employers. By hiring former prisoners, those employers then have the opportunity to receive tax breaks through the federally funded Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
Specifically, PassGo partners with organizations like ex-offender assistance programs Alvis and Kindway. Their work includes developing computer literacy programs, resume workshops and job-preparation classes, in addition to volunteering at already established GED programs.
At the same time, the group reaches out to local businesses that could benefit financially by hiring ex-offenders and tries to reduce the stigma that they face.
“When it comes to being in prison and getting out, you still need to be able to build yourself back up and it’s difficult because you have a record now, and a lot of people treat that with stigma,” said Eleni Christofides, president of PassGo. “We realized how important it is to break down that stigma at an individual level and make sure that people can integrate themselves back into their communities.”
The program started when a group of students found the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and felt many local businesses were unaware of the tax credit’s advantages. Since then, PassGo has connected with other local organizations also aiming to connect ex-offenders with the opportunities and resources necessary to resuming life after prison.
One of these organizations is Alvis, a nonprofit agency that works with individuals who have spent time in the criminal-justice system. Members of PassGo partner with Alvis to help with GED tutoring.
Jackie Haight, a volunteer and intern coordinator at Alvis, said this is a great help to many individuals who sometimes struggle with the GED, especially the math portion.
“To have a student group come in is a great help,” Haight said. “I can’t thank them enough for helping our clients find jobs and complete their GED. PassGo has definitely contributed to the 180-degree impact at Alvis.”
PassGo also seeks to spread community awareness about the current state of the criminal-justice system.
“For a justice system, there’s a lot of injustice involved,” said Jordan Maier, chair of the organization’s Employment Opportunity Committee.
Maier said some of the challenges facing today’s jails and prisons include overpopulation because of mandatory minimum drug sentencing. She also spoke of the struggles some families face when a family member is imprisoned.
“Usually if they are in poverty, they’re thrown deeper in poverty and it raises the likelihood that their children are eventually going to end up in the prison system as well,” Maier said. “I think (PassGo) is one way that we can kind of work to end that cycle of incarceration.”
To spread awareness about the impact the prison system has on people and families, PassGo is organizing an art exhibit to allow ex-offenders to share their stories through artwork.
“The essential message PassGo wants to communicate to its members and to the Ohio State community is not to make judgments about a person’s value or ability based on one feature, when we know nothing else about them or their experiences,” Christofides said.
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