Rehabilitating ex-prisoners is never ever easy. It comes with so many challenges and despite people’s best efforts recidivism rates are huge. Indeed, a report conducted last year found that:
“Forty-three percent of those released from prison each year recidivate within three years of release and 17% will recidivate within one year of release…Taxpayers of Illinois pay one third- or $50,835 – of the cost of recidivism…for law enforcement, court costs and the costs of imposing sentences of community supervision or incarceration in county jails or state prisons.”
That’s why the recent efforts being made on the west side of Chicago using honey bees has to be welcome news! One example of the positive impact of this program is from James Jones who was released from prison earlier this year after a three-and-a-half-year service for drug selling. While he has a vision for what he wants to do ultimately (truck driving and even owning a truck company), for now he is in a halfway house training to be a bee handler.
Jones is one of many individuals hired by Sweet Beginnings – skin care products maker (using honey) which has five bee farms in the greater Chicago area for its company Beelove. Clearly this name is very appropriate since it shows its love by “offer[ing] full-time, transitional jobs to previously incarcerated individuals like Jones, who need help reintegrating into society. The new hires are trained to become beekeepers and learn about harvesting honey, production, filling orders, packaging, shipping and selling.”Jones reported he felt “excited” by being given a chance. Getting a job isn’t easy when one has had no prior experience and not even a CV.
Founded by Brenda Palms Barber in 2005 in North Lawndale, the idea behind it was to “provide the workplace skills former inmates needed to rebuild their lives.” Barber explained:
“The typical reaction we get when [former inmates] come to us is ‘What?,'” said Barber. “They don’t believe we are a real business until they see the products in stores. Then they realize they’re being hired by a real company and it boosts their self-esteem.”
And it’s working. Close to 500 workers have been hired and have been offered 90-day employment and training with a $10 per hour starting wage. What’s really impressive is the statistic that less than 4% of workers have returned to prison since the program has started.
In related news, a new appointment has been made at the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Rob Jeffreys – a renowned criminal justice expert – has been in the industry for more than 20 years having worked at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections in corrections management. He is Chief of Staff at the Agency, directing the Office of Human Resources (ODRC), IT and Strategic Initiatives Bureaus; he will now become Bureau Chief of Classification and Reception at ODRC.