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New employment firm helps offenders, local businesses | Community Spirit

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New employment firm helps offenders, local businesses
New employment firm helps offenders, local businesses

Terry Williams has a love for former prison inmates. She believes in them so much that, in an economy that is less than robust, she just launched an employment firm – Little Rock-based Ramoth, Inc. – to help recently released Arkansas and Louisiana inmates find jobs.

Though it’s a unique concept, Williams said she doesn’t consider it a risk.

That’s because when it comes to ex-inmates, Williams is an expert. The daughter of a police officer and wife of the City of Maumelle, Ark.’s police chief, she has decades of experience working as the director of faith-based halfway houses for federal inmates called City of Faith. Based in Louisiana and Little Rock, Williams’ programs have put thousands of former federal prisoners to work – successfully.  Now she is hoping to help state-level offenders find jobs.

“One of the requirements of our halfway houses is that residents must be employed,” Williams said. “Time and time again I have seen federal inmates make a new life for themselves through work. And the companies hiring them get dedicated employees inspired by the need for money and desire to stay out of prison,” she said.

Most offenders, as Williams calls them, are hard working, intelligent people with good educations. No sex offenders or those who have crimes involving children may take part in the program.

“These are folks who have made bad choices and paid the price. Those we partner with have supportive families and families to support. Ninety-nine percent of them have children. They’re willing to work hard, and now Ramoth can match them with companies that need them,” she said.

Williams admits the idea is new, and possible employers may be leery. “So we remove the risk from the entire hiring process,” she said. “Basically, Ramoth takes on the worker as an employee of ours. We absorb their conviction. We handle the drug testing. We work with the parole officer. We’re responsible for it all,” she said.

If the employee doesn’t show up for work, Ramoth immediately sends another employee to the job site. “The job of recruiting, hiring, worrying if the employee will work out – even payroll – that’s our job,” Williams said.

Williams said Ramoth charges a negotiated rate, typically 25 percent of the employee’s hourly pay. “As an example, if an employee would earn $10 an hour, they might be paid $8 instead, with the remaining $2 going to Ramoth for our services. Of course, if the employer needs 10 employees from us, of course that 25 percent would be less,” she explained.

After six months, the company may hire the employee directly, or continue with Ramoth.

To encourage employees to stay at the job – and as an added incentive to firms that provide jobs for Ramoth workers – Ramoth withholds 10 percent of the offenders’ pay for six months. “It’s an insurance policy. If the employee leaves, the hiring company receives that money.  When the employee stays, which is the norm, that pay is turned over to him or her as a small savings account,” Williams said.

The City of Faith halfway houses receive calls daily from firms that regularly hire federal offenders, and Williams expects for the same for Ramoth’s state-level offenders. “We get calls from companies looking for concrete workers, welders and landscapers. There are employers who want clerical workers and cleaners. It runs the gamut,” she said.

Allen Winkler, Ramoth’s vice president of operations, who has worked alongside Williams in the work-release industry for the last six years, puts numbers behind the reasons why employing offenders is valuable.

“In 2005, there were 2 million people in prison. That’s one of every 17 people. That is a lot of people who need a second chance to overcome the stigma associated with having been a prisoner and are willing to work hard for it,” he said. “In 2010, City of Faith residents earned $1.1 million working in Arkansas which greatly contributed to local and state tax revenues.  These men and women are becoming responsible citizens and we want to make this program available statewide.  According to statistics, 44% of Arkansas offenders will return to prison.  Our goal is to decrease that number.”

Like City of Faith, Ramoth is a faith-based organization, born out of Williams’ desire to provide second chances. She chose the word Ramoth from the Old Testament, where it was a city of refuge for criminals.

And that’s just what she hopes her new business endeavor will become.

“In this line of work I meet people every day who are beaten down by their bad decisions. I want to help provide them a second chance, because when I see what got so many of them where they are today, all I can say is, ‘But there by the grace of God go I.’”