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Joby Zimmerman, left, and Joshua Snyder are both felons looking for employment in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Snyder lives in an apartment in southwest Mandan, and Zimmerman said he is homeless.

It’s not easy for someone starting over after serving time in prison. Finding housing and a job can be difficult, putting the former convict in an immediate bind.

The reluctance to rent to a former prisoner or hire them can be understandable. It takes a major mistake to land someone in prison and questions follow them after they get out. Can they be trusted to show up for work? Will they do good work? Will they pay their rent on time? Will they not abuse drugs and alcohol?

Like it or not, former convicts have to live with a lot of baggage. However, it’s essential society gives them a second chance at productive lives. We can’t afford to recycle people through our prison system. In two stories Sunday, reporter Jessica Holdman looked at challenges facing former convicts and the available programs to help them move back into society.

North Dakota officials and groups have been working the last few years on a variety of programs to reduce the recidivism rate. The Tribune Editorial Board has been supportive of these reforms.

There are private groups working with former prisoners like Ministry on the Margins, a volunteer organization that supports those in transition by providing meals, a food pantry and prison-to-society support. Centre Inc., a halfway house in Mandan, also provides help.

The North Dakota Department of Corrections hired its first workforce resource coordinator in October. Mandy Heberholz has the responsibility of implementing programs to help inmates with job skills. She worked with Job Service North Dakota to organize a Second Chance Job Fair. It brought together employers who indicated a willingness to hire former prisoners with some inmates from the Missouri River Correctional Center. DOCR staff helped the inmates with resumes and coached them on interviews. Job Service will host a multi-industry job fair on April 10 and some inmates might be able to attend.

Other efforts cited in Holdman’s stories include offering inmates supervised internet access so they can upload resumes and start job searches before being released. A Toastmasters group has been organized at the state penitentiary by Heberholz. Rough Rider Industries continues to train prisoners in a variety of jobs. Rough Rider works with Bismarck State College to certify inmates in eight types of welding.

The Free Through Recovery program was recently launched. The Legislature approved $7 million for the effort to be guided by human services and corrections officials. They will tap into social service, mental health, religious and cultural organizations throughout state to prevent those on probation from re-offending.

All these programs have the same goal: create productive citizens. The programs won’t succeed without the help of the public. There needs to be a willingness by employers and landlords to give former prisoners a second chance.

If the prison system continues to improve how it prepares inmates for life outside the walls it will be easier for the public to accept them. It won’t happen overnight, but success means in the long run there will be fewer people behind bars.

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