SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Hayley Burr is a mother, a student–inches away from receiving her master’s degree–and she has a misdemeanor on her record. More than ten years ago, Burr was arrested and charged for a misdemeanor drug offense. After that, she decided to turn her life around, and went back to school.
As Burr’s graduation gets closer, she is having a hard time finding a job in her field.
Recently, Burr applied for a job she passionately wanted. “I applied for a job, and they did a background check on me, and he explained to me that my charge from over 10 years ago was unacceptable, and I couldn’t work for the company,” she says.
Burr never spent time in prison, but was part of the large group of people who are charged with misdemeanors in Utah every year. However, there are more than 4,000 people incarcerated at Utah State Prison. Of those, about 3,000 people are released each year.
Scott Crowther is the Director of Utah Correctional Industries. He says employing people once they leave prison would be an economic benefit.
“Think about 3,000 people that are untapped in our job market,” says Director Crowther.
This is part of the reason why Utah State Correctional Facilities started a number of programs designed to help people find jobs when they re-enter the community.
Director Crowther explains, “When we look at helping people overcome the barriers to the fact that they are a felon, it really starts with recognizing some of the skills they need to be successful.”
The programs teach soft skills, like conflict resolution and resume building, as well as hard skills where the inmates can learn a specific trade. There are other programs at the prison that focus on cognitive skill building, and help to provide networking resources for when people re-enter the community.
There are circumstances where people who are released from prison cannot be hired for various safety and legal reasons. That being said, Crowther acknowledges that when people work hard to turn their life around, it’s important for them to not give up, and for people to not give up on them.
“As we focus on building community partnerships and breaking down some of those barriers between when people commit crimes, make mistakes, are held accountable for those mistakes, and then move past them, we need to give people an opportunity to be successful,” he says.
Hayley Burr agrees that this is a community issue, which affects a great deal of people,
“I think that people need to be aware that people do change, and we do need to have opportunities,” says Burr.
Burr is currently applying to have her record expunged. She says she hopes that more employers begin to take a chance on people with charges on their record.
For more information about Utah Department of Corrections, you can visit them online here.