As the average age of the nation's population rises, the number of skilled laborers will fall, making it progressively more difficult for employers to find qualified workers. One often-overlooked resource is release programs sponsored by local courts, which allow nonviolent inmates to work outside prisons during weekdays.
Institutions such as the Mecklenburg County Work Release and Restitution Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, can serve as de facto employment agencies, uniting businesses with qualified inmates. Burgess Sales and Supply Inc., a Charlotte-based distributor of commercial wood and metal doors, hired a work-release inmate who had experience as a delivery driver. "We consider him a valuable employee," says Julie Broughton, Burgess' operations coordinator. "One of the main reasons we participate in the program is to help citizens who have been less fortunate. Most of them have families, and without the security of having a job while they're incarcerated, their families would have to get public assistance."
Hiring an inmate raises some human resources issues, though. One day, Broughton's work-release employee failed to report for work because he had been involved in a conflict and "locked down" as punishment. Still, Broughton was pleased with his work and hired him as a full-time employee when he was released from prison. "We made a great decision," says Broughton. "We'd do it again, but we haven't yet found another qualified employee. We're just waiting for the right person."