Some Good News

The following comes from:

Jamal (Jay) Nelso

Government Affairs

Council of State Governments Justice Center

4630 Montgomery Ave., Suite 650

Bethesda, MD 20814

“This week the House and Senate conferees provided $63 million for the Second Chance Act in the “minibus” appropriations report including Fiscal Year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) spending. The compromise appropriations bill resolves differences in Second Chance funding between the House, which allotted $70 million for the program, and the Senate, which provided no funding. The conference report, a consolidated appropriations bill for several agencies including the Department of Justice, is expected to go to the full House and Senate for consideration this week.

“For more information, please visit our Second Chance page at:

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies—informed by available evidence—to increase public safety and strengthen communities.



Why an Ex-Con Could Be a Great Hire

Tax breaks and other incentives make felons surprisingly attractive for some jobs.



Afew years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts manager Luke Halloran had some tough jobs to fill at a store he ran in one of Chicago’s sketchiest areas. It had been robbed several times, a body had been found in a nearby trash container, and employees hired locally enjoyed giving away the store’s products to their friends.

Halloran had an idea: He would hire an ex-con from a local halfway house — someone with the street smarts to feel comfortable working in a dangerous neighborhood. It worked so well, he hired more when he opened up a store of his own. Now a third of his employees are past and present guests of the state — and Halloran says the former convicts are among his best employees. “They never miss a day, get drug tested and will work any shift,” he says.

Hiring ex-felons is an experiment that hundreds of business owners have tried — and one that state and federal governments have supported with tax breaks. Uncle Sam offers businesses a credit of up to 40 percent of income taxes on the first $6,000 of wages paid to each former inmate they hire, a deal similar to those offered for hiring from other targeted categories, like welfare recipients and the disabled. “I give them the second chance they wouldn’t get,” says Halloran, who has worked in the Dunkin’ Donuts system since 1975.

For the most part, the ex-cons are humbled by circumstances and grateful for any job they can get. “‘Oh, thank you for giving me this job!’ isn’t something you hear from the general population,” says Karim Khowaja, who operates 16 Dunkin’ Donuts in downtown Chicago and has hired at least six ex-cons in the past 18 months. “They are very humble.” Apparently, working a coffee counter, sweeping floors or doing anything useful is better than being restricted to a half-way house — a step up from prison, but not a leap. What’s more, keeping a steady job is generally the only way an inmate can leave transitional housing and earn, say, a weekend pass to visit family. Intrigued, we went to Chicago to meet Halloran’s crew and check in with other area business owners who have taken similar steps.

Bob Strauss has owned Chicago convenience stores since the mid-1970s. Over the years, Strauss has hired as many as 80 employees qualified for the favorable tax treatment, including ex-cons. “It isn’t altruistic,” says Strauss; he’s reaped thousands of dollars in tax credits each year. And while the average tenure for a convenience store job is two months, some of Strauss’s felons have stayed years. “If there are two candidates and one candidate has a pimple, the tax credits even the playing field,” says Strauss.

“You would be ridiculous not to [use] the program,” agrees Sherri Modrak. Modrak manages nine Chicago-area McDonald’s franchises; they employ about 15 tax-qualified employees a year in each of their restaurants and save, on average, $70,000 a year in payroll taxes. “It’s free money,” she enthuses. But Modrak admits she doesn’t know which of her employees are qualified for the credits when she hires them; she leaves the filing work to her accounting department and an outside consultant. In a job interview, she says, “I wouldn’t call a criminal background a bonus.”

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit program, which includes the ex-con incentives, has been around in its current form since 1996 and is currently up for Congressional renewal. Its usage has more than tripled in the past decade, to cover 940,000 employees in 2010. It’s mainly been tapped by large employers like hotel chains. But today more requests are from small employers, says Jeff Newcorn of tax-credit consultancy R. Jeffrey & Associates in Des Plaines, Ill. “With some government benefits expiring, small companies are forced to look at other options.”

Getting the credits, however, isn’t always a picnic. The paperwork must be filed within 30 days of hiring and can be a headache. In some states, there’s a two-year wait to find out if a potential hire is qualified. Halloran says he has never even tried to claim the credits; while he could retain a consultant like Newcorn to manage the paperwork, such a firm can take anywhere from 5 to 50 percent of the tax credit. Cynthia Butts-Ford, a manager at Illinois’s state-funded Safer Foundation, which helps prisoners get work, says most of the employers she works with don’t file for the tax credits and are more interested in finding a reliable and motivated employee.

Of course, they aren’t always reliable and motivated, or honest. Halloran once caught one of his ex-cons in the freezer getting high off the nitrous oxide the store uses to make lattes. Another was caught by a security camera using a garbage bag to shield himself as he moved $3,500 out of the store’s safe and into a trash bin “They must be supervised,” says Halloran. “But people without [criminal] records can beat you too.”

Halloran has found the good apple to bad apple ratio runs about 75/25 among the people working behind his counters — among ex-convicts and clean-record staff alike. Angel Lopez, 23, was locked up for 18 months for selling drugs and for prying flat-screen TVs off of hotel-room walls. Lopez has a pudgy, babyish face, with a long, thin beard line that traces his chin. Lopez was hired last year by Halloran and has worked the doughnut shop’s 11 p.m. to 6 a.m graveyard slot. He shifts in his seat and looks downcast when asked about his jail time. “I don’t want to fall back,” he says nervously.

But Lopez has proved better than a good apple, and Halloran hopes he’ll stay after his parole ends. “I couldn’t have opened the store without him,” says Halloran. Has Lopez ever been tempted to break the rules? He’s taken aback: “No, I wouldn’t steal anything,” he says with wide eyes. Then he breaks into a grin: “But doughnuts, yes — they’re free for employees.”

This article originally appeared in SmartMoney Magazine NOVEMBER 14, 2011


Just Some Notes

The Polk County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) met at River Place on Thursday, November 17. The primary agenda item was the Jail Medical Update. Two representatives from the Corizon, the corporate entity managing the health care needs of Polk County’s inmates, were on hand to give a presentation and answer questions.

Dr. Joe Pastor is a psychiatrist with the company, and Rod Holiman is a vice-president. They began discussing their role in the Polk County Jail. After citing all the key phrases in any worthwhile presentation, such as “best practices”, “evidence-based”, and “holistic approach”, they threw out the phrase “forensic integrated care”. They made the claim that people with mental illness also often have diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. They were very impressive. That is, until members of the CJCC began to ask a few questions.

Sheriff Bill McCarthy began the questioning period. He asked why the company changes drugs that are familiar to the inmate. The company officials responded defensively by claiming that anyone coming into the jail needs a new assessment and evaluation with a new diagnosis, possibly. Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly related that she receives numerous calls from parents who wonder why their children are denied the drugs they have been prescribed. The drug Seroquel came up during the discussion. Seroquel (quetiapine) treats the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The Corizon officials said they will not prescribe Seroquel or Benadryl to people who are incarcerated.

The answer given for denying certain drugs to inmates is that a person may get a buzz from Benadryl, and that Seroquel may be used for barter, or worse yet, lead to bullying. They happily responded that they prescribe alternatives. They also claim that people coming in to the jail are often high on other drugs or alcohol, and that they can’t evaluate or assess someone properly under those circumstances.

District Associate Judge William Price and Chief Judge Arthur Gamble expressed their concerns and displeasure with the process of not allowing certain inmates the drugs they are prescribed by private physicians. Judge Gamble related to the group that he had to suspend a trial until a defendant could receive the proper medication to assist in his defense. “We need to have them ready for their trial,” he said. This is a matter of “securing constitutional rights.”

Once the jail medical program was over, there was some discussion about the increase in female incarceration. Fifth Judicial Department of Correctional Services Director Sally Kreamer said that there are more female offenders in the system than she has ever seen. Marilyn Lantz, Chief Juvenile Court Officer for the Fifth Judicial District, commented that she has been seeing more female juveniles than males. There was discussion about why this is occurring. Law enforcement from the City (Des Moines) and County speculated that this is the result of recent laws that require law enforcement officers to arrest the primary aggressor in a domestic dispute. Where there’s an injury, there’s an arrest. But Sally countered with speculation of her own; that these women are victims. By the time police arrive to a dispute the marks of the male’s hands around the woman’s throat have disappeared. Someone mentioned that this phenomenon [more female than male arrestees] has been increasing over the past 17 months. No one knows why.

Upcoming Event

Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners will meet on Tuesday, November 15, 2001, from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 800 E. 12th Street, Des Moines, IA

We welcome Jennifer Reynoldson to our November meeting. Jennifer is a Probation/Parole Officer Supervisor with the 5th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services. She currently supervises the specialized Domestic Abuse Unit, Parole and the Women’s Offender Case Management model unit for the 5th Judicial District.

Ms. Reynoldson is a 1997 graduate of Loyola University-Chicago School of Law. She has worked in the field of domestic violence for the past thirteen years. Her experience prior to working for the 5th Judicial District includes supervising the Batterer’s Education Program for Children and Families of Iowa and working with ACCESS in Story County providing counseling and legal advocacy for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

For more information contact Vi Darsee: or at 515/225-8349