AUGUSTA — Businesses and the court system should get together to guarantee jobs for people in alternative sentencing programs, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties told attendees at the United Way of Kennebec Valley annual meeting Friday morning.
The biggest problem District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she hears from graduates of the programs is they can’t find jobs once they finish and re-enter the community.
She said the programs and the court system can connect people with services and help them secure disability benefits, “but that’s ultimately not what they want.”
“They want something so they can feel proud of themselves, so they can go out every day and do something they feel good about,” she said.
Maloney, speaking to volunteers and committee members of the United Way of Kennebec Valley at the Senator Inn & Spa, said her proposal is just an idea, but she would like people involved with the nonprofit organization to brainstorm ways to make it a reality.
She said a guaranteed employment program could be connected with the alternative treatment programs like Kennebec County’s Veterans Treatment Court, which had its first two graduates last September, the Co-Occurring Disorders Court for offenders with mental illness and substance abuse problems or Kennebec County Correctional Facility’s Criminogenic Addiction & Recovery Academy, known as CARA.
The programs offer lower jail sentences in exchange for strict requirements of treatment, counseling and reporting to the courts.
United Way of Kennebec Valley Executive Director Rob Gordon said he invited Maloney to speak because he was impressed with her ideas of creative sentencing that help people return to the workplace. He said it’s possible the organization could help initiate the discussion with employers.
“She has a belief, as I do, that meaningful work and income is the key to all kinds of stability issues. If you impose a sentence or send someone to prison where they never can find meaningful work, it imposes on such a hardship on them and their family, but at great expense to the community as well,” Gordon said.
Housing someone in prison costs about $50,000 a year compared to around $10,000 for someone in the veterans court, according to Maloney.
Maloney said challenge of a program like the one she is proposing that is employers would be hiring people who have had substance abuse problems in the past or other things that led to criminal activity.
“There’s always a risk when you hire someone new, and people see it as a bigger risk to hire someone with a criminal conviction,” she said.
But Maloney said it’s potentially less risky because people who have graduated from the alternative programs face more severe consequences if they don’t behave while in the program.
“For that person, if they make a mistake, they end up going to prison. They’re highly motivated to be successful, so I think it’s less of a risk once you fully understand the motivations that the person has,” she said.
Before Maloney spoke, the campaign chairwoman for the United Way of Kennebec Valley, Dorcas Riley, announced the organization expects to have raised a total of $1,530,000 during its campaign last year.
The organization, which allocates the money to more than 40 local programs that help people in need, hasn’t surpassed its $1.5 million fundraising goal since 2007.
Fundraising totals for the organization had been generally increasing since a low of $1,237,000 in 2009, according to past tax forms.
“People are very generous. People are very thoughtful,” Gordon said. “Even when times were toughest, people weren’t saying no. They were saying we can’t do as much.”