Criminal InJustice† is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
Picture an Ex-Felon as a Law Abiding Citizen
by Tracey D. Syphax
Unless you’ve been under a rock the past 10 years then you should be well aware that the prison industry is the second largest employer in state government. It consists of over 10,000 employees and continues to grow as approximately 60% of inmates are arrested within 3 years after their release.
Government officials and politicians have tossed the idea of recidivism around but no one seems to fully grasp the concept of helping these ex-felons become law abiding citizens or, as I prefer to call it, taking them From the Block to the Boardroom.
At a cost of $48,000 to $52,000 annually, an inmate can be fed, clothed, sheltered and given medical care in any of New Jersey’s penal institutions. On the contrary, the same inmate can receive a college education from Rutgers University for $34,000 to $42,000 a year, certification from DeVry Institute for roughly $37,000 a year or a barber’s or cosmetology license for $6500 to $10,000 in total. If you’ve done the math then you can see the problem. The government has spent more money housing inmates than educating and training them. With 39% of the inmates being 30 years of age or younger, it is far cheaper to help them transition back into society.
And just how can this whole From the Block to the Boardroom movement be accomplished? Through a comprehensive series of steps that include:
• Adjusting the mindset of the inmates. While it is my belief that everyone deserves a second chance, this concept should be targeted towards non-violent offenders. They need to know that they do not have to accept the label of “throwaways and incorrigibles.” They need to be taught how to dress for success and speak a language other than street slang. They need to be encouraged to become educated. They must begin to realize that they can become business and homeowners, active parents and employees, taxpayers and voters and more importantly, law abiding citizens.
• Changing the mindset of politicians. They must realize that the budget can be reduced and more taxpayers can be created once a non-violent offender becomes employable. And if they change the stipulations on voting, voter turnout will be greater.
• Changing the mindset of employers and encouraging them to take full advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program offered for hiring at-risk applicants. Having probation and parole work with them to target ex-offenders who are being released and ready for the job market.
• Having institutions of higher learning on board and perhaps offering them a tax credit for providing an education to or training for ex-offenders.
• Soliciting assistance from Motor Vehicles and Family Court to get them to reduce outstanding fees and debt as to not create a further hindrance to ex-offenders’ willingness to work.
• Soliciting assistance from paralegals and interns on expungement of non-violent criminal records.
• Connecting with agencies that offer medical care at a reduced rate to ensure that they are healthy and can get physicals. Enforcing the laws established to allow them to apply for benefits through the Boards of Social Services until they can get established.
• Offering tax breaks to landlords who agree to provide safe, affordable housing to ex-offenders.
• Linking them with treatment centers that offer counseling in an attempt to prevent them from returning to old addictions and habits.
As a well established entrepreneur and an ex-felon, I am a living testament to what can be accomplished through determination, hard work, and perseverance. “From the Block to the Boardroom,” my autobiography, will be in bookstores in early 2012. It has begun to initiate a movement to empower ex-felons, encourage youth and adults to become entrepreneurs and to create opportunities to give back to the community. The book supports my notion of leading by example. I believe that my success is crucial for the success of others in my community. It is important that others have tangible evidence that positive change is worthwhile and success is attainable.
As a society, we too have to create a movement that will encourage, motivate and support ex-felons as they transition from a state number to a taxpayer. If they are educated and trained in the institution, receive refresher courses upon re-entry making their skills marketable and are then placed in a position where they can compete with the average citizen, they will be well on their way to feeling as if society has a place for them. If all the provider agencies are on board and offer their specific services, mindsets of society will be changed. Not only will the lives of the ex-offenders be changed but the attitudes of generations to come will be positively affected. It will help do away with fatherless children, poverty, unemployment, poor health and crime. It would take the entire state From the Block to the Boardroom, one ex-offender at a time.
The ball is in your court. You see the statistics and you know what has to be done. Are you willing to change YOUR mindset? Are you willing to join an organization that supports prison re-entry? How many letters are you willing to write to your local politicians to support this concept? Are you prepared to lead the movement From the Block to the Boardroom? Will you encourage your friends to support the movement? Perhaps you may wish to start a movement of your own. Just what are you willing to do to “Picture an Ex-Felon a Law Abiding Citizen?”
Tracey D. Syphax is President and CEO of two Trenton, New Jersey, firms. Capitol City Contracting Inc. is a construction company specializing in roofing, siding, windows and doors. The Phax Group LLC is a real estate development company with rental properties throughout Mercer and Burlington Counties. Tracey was educated in the Trenton Public School system and received his diploma in 1980. He later attended Mercer County Vocational School.
Tracey is a board member of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. He is also a former Chairman of the Board for Fathers & Men United for a Better Trenton. He is the Co-Chairman of Union Baptist Church Trustee Board. In addition, the program about which he is most proud is the Minding Our Business program teaching 6th & 7th grade students in the Trenton Public schools how to start and run a business. He is a founding board member. He formerly served as Co-Chairman for the advisory board of The Mayor’s Office of Employment & Training under former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer. The board had a relationship with over 45 businesses that had agreed to hire ex-offenders as well as working with agencies to cultivate social skills. The board was dissolved.
Tracey has received many awards nationally and locally for his business success as well as his passion of returning to his community to uplift and encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs. His most recent nomination and award were for the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which will be a history-making event. For the first time in its 51 year history, an African American entrepreneur will receive this award. Tracey is the former host of a weekly radio and television show, “Violence Serves No Purpose,” on WIMG 1300 am and WZBN channel 25. He has been featured in numerous publications and magazines such as NJ BIZ, The Network Journal, BBC News and the Downtowner. He is currently working on his autobiography, “From the Block to the Boardroom,” scheduled for release in 2012.
Tracey resides in the West Ward of Trenton with his wife of 26 years, Margaret Syphax, He has a daughter Trachell, a son Marquis and two granddaughters Brooklyn and Saana.
Editors Note: Tracey D. Syphax is the cousin of conlakappa. long-time Criminal InJustice series supporter and friend.. Much gratitude to her for making this possible.
Originally Posted at Critical Mass Progress
† © Copyright 2010-2011, Nancy A. Heitzeg, Kay Whitlock, and Seeta Persaud of CMP. All rights reserved. All articles and posts published by Criminal Injustice may not be distributed, re-published or cross-posted in any format, including print or electronic format, without express and explicit written permission from the copyright holders, including CI editors (Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock) and criticalmassprogress.com.