Labor Dept. Announces Grants to Assist Ex-Convicts; No Sex Offenders, But Prostitutes OK

By Susan Jones | February 11, 2011 | 11:03 AM EST

( - The U.S. Labor Department says it has $11.7 million available to help adult offenders as they get out of prison and return to "high-poverty, high-crime communities."

The grant money, authorized by the Workforce Investment Act, will be awarded through a competitive process to nonprofit, faith-based and community organizations that have a presence in poor neighborhoods.

The taxpayer funds must benefit individuals 18 or older who have been convicted as adults under state or federal law and who have "never been convicted of a sex-related offense other than prostitution," the Labor Department said.

Veterans or their spouses who meet the program’s eligibility requirements will get priority.

The Labor Department says its "employment-centered approach to reintegration" is intended to keep ex-cons out of trouble.

"The Labor Department is committed to getting all Americans back to work and to expanding opportunities for everyone who wants a job," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis on Thursday. "Stable employment helps ex-offenders stay out of the legal system.  Focusing on that end is the right thing to do for these individuals, and it makes sense for local communities and our economy as a whole."

The Labor Department said it expects to award 10 grants of approximately $1,170,000 each, covering a 27-month period.

The grant money is to be used for services including job training and employment preparation and mentoring. The employment component of the grant will focus on job opportunities in “in-demand occupations, including emerging ‘green’ jobs.”

According to government statistics, approximately 650,000 inmates are released from state and federal prisons each year. Without help in making the transition, the majority of ex-offenders return to criminal activity.  Almost three out of five returning ex-offenders will be charged with new crimes within three years of their release from prison, and two out of five will be re-incarcerated, according to the Justice Department.