JACKSONVILLE -- There is another way.
As Jacksonville works to curb its crime rate, five ex-offenders come home to Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties every hour, or about 4,000 monthly.
More than half of them will return to prison, costing taxpaxers about $22,000 for each year they're locked up. This doesn't include the emotional cost suffered by their families and communities, nor does it include the incalculable impacts on the area's economy.
The alternative is re-entry programs, which have gained traction nationwide as businesses find value not just in hiring hard-working employees but also in helping the community.
The Ready4Work program, which costs $4,100 per ex-offender and has a 5 percent recidivism rate, is expected to save taxpayers $5.4 million this year, said Kevin Gay, executive director of Operation New Hope, which runs the local program. Seventy percent to 75 percent of the more than 300 ex-offenders whom the program has placed in jobs since 2005 are expected to stay employed.
"Ready4Work has proven that the ex-offender population wants to work," Gay said. "It all came down to economics. We needed to create a business model that would empower people."
Gay did just that after leaving the insurance industry to start the nonprofit Operation New Hope. In his business travels, he saw poverty and crime-ridden communities in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore that were gentrified, but whose original residents did not benefit enough.
In addition to helping ex-offenders enter the work force, Ready4Work gives referrals for child support, food stamp residency, legal aid and other services.
By the end of 2008, about 500 ex-offenders are expected to use the program. Of the 45 ex-offenders who have been placed in jobs this year, 43 are still employed.