Re-entry programs, new laws look to help ex-offenders seeking work

Alan Bannot (left), Dan Hanneken (right) and dog Daisy visit with friends at the In 2 Action home that supports eight men recently released from prison.  Hanneken is the Executive Director of In 2 Action, and Bannot is a member of the program. | Michaela Marshall Dungey/Missouri Business Alert
Alan Bannot (left) and Dan Hanneken visit with friends at an In2Action home in Columbia that supports eight men recently released from prison. | Kara Tabor/Missouri Business Alert

When Dan Hanneken was released from prison in 2003, not even McDonald’s wanted to hire him. Now, Hanneken is the Executive Director of a re-entry program that helps ex-offenders find jobs.

After working with the Missouri Department of Corrections as a re-entry coordinator, Hanneken knew there was a greater need not being addressed. So in 2011 he started In2Action.

“If you want something done right,” Hanneken said, “you’ll have to do it yourself.”

In2Action, based in Columbia, is a nonprofit that draws the majority of its funding from grants or faith-based organization donations. The program has two homes that are open to ex-offenders, where they focus on creating a daily routine for the men to follow, as well as developing what Hanneken calls “soft skills” that are needed to find a job.

In 2 Action stresses spiritual development as part of the re-entry process. | Michaela Marshall Dungey/Missouri Business Alert
In2Action stresses developing routines and taking accountability as part of the re-entry process. | Kara Tabor/Missouri Business Alert

Those skills include showing up on time to work, being a disciplined worker and learning how to react to criticism. The organization has a transitional employment lawn service program, where the men can have real-world experience before being hired in a more competitive work atmosphere.

In addition to helping men cultivate work ethic and professional skills, the program also seeks to help participants with spiritual development. As a faith-based organization, In2Action applies faith-based principles in a practical way, Hanneken said, encouraging the men to think through their behavior before acting on things.

“It’s a place where God can protect you and bless you — a place that focuses on getting close to God,” said Tyler Lindenmeyer, who is part of In2Action’s re-entry program. “It’s God-centered; when you put God first, things fall in place.”

Hanneken believes there are many things about his program that can help men successfully reintegrate into society, but he especially preaches the importance of getting ex-offenders back into the work force.

“Employers are exceptionally satisfied with In2Action,” Hanneken said. “These guys are not likely to take a job for granted, and when they do get a job they keep it.”

A push to “ban the box”

In 2 Action focuses on making ex-offenders part of the workforce. | Michaela Marshall Dungey/Missouri Business Alert
In2Action focuses on making ex-offenders part of the workforce. | Kara Tabor/Missouri Business Alert

Hanneken favors a new measure, popularly called “ban the box” because it would eliminate the section of job applications that asks potential hires about their criminal history. The Columbia City Council will vote on the proposal later this year. Kansas City passed similar legislation last year.

The current Columbia proposal would apply to all job applications in the city. That goes a step further than the policy in Kansas City, where the ban applies only to applications for jobs with the city. Columbia has prohibited questions about criminal history on applications for jobs with the city since 2012, according to Michael Trapp, a councilman in favor of the proposal.

“We’ve created these second-class citizens who never get done paying for their crime,” Trapp said. “I think it goes against our law.”

Lora McDonald, the Executive Director of Kansas City’s Metro Organization for Racial Equity, played a role in her city’s passage of the measure. Her group is a faith-based community-organizing program, made up of 23 local religious communities.

McDonald expressed support for Columbia taking further steps to “ban the box,” emphasizing the success it has had in Kansas City. With 32,000 people in Missouri prisons, McDonald said, the state needs to start being “smart on crime,” rather than “tough on crime.”

| Michaela Marshall Dungey/Missouri Business Alert
In2Action runs two houses in the Columbia area. | Kara Tabor/Missouri Business Alert

Hanneken echoes her sentiment, stressing the high prison release rate for both Boone County and the state. He said 40 people per month are released from incarceration back into Boone County and 380 per month are released into the state as a whole.

“Two of the biggest misconceptions people have about ex-offenders is that people don’t change, and convicted felons cannot or would not be good employees,” Hanneken said.

Hanneken’s main message is that the Columbia measure would not force employers to hire ex-offenders, but rather look at potential employees for all of their skills, not just their history.

“I think employers are cheating themselves out of a rich pool of applicants when they disqualify people because of their past convictions,” Hanneken said. “I would like to see employers step up to the plate with what’s good for the community.”

After the initial application, employers would still be allowed to ask about a potential employee’s criminal history. But Hanneken hopes the rule change would prevent applicants with a criminal history from being excluded from consideration before being granted an interview.

Not everyone in Boone County agrees with Hanneken. Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, said at a forum last month in Columbia that he opposed the measure because he doesn’t like the idea of “obscuring information to employers,” according to a Columbia Missourian report.

University of Missouri School of Law professor S. David Mitchell told the Columbia Tribune that he supports “banning the box,” but Mitchell said some opponents of the idea question whether ex-offenders deserve jobs and suggest the measure could lead to an increase in discrimination lawsuits against employers.

Regardless of whether the measure passes in Columbia or not, Hanneken will continue helping ex-offenders find both a job and God.

“I put my faith in God to let him take care of things,” Alan Bannot, who is part of the re-entry program, said, emphasizing that the close-knit community at In2Action helps him do that.

Lindenmeyer, a member of the program with Bannot, was recently hired in the Boone County area.

“In the future, it’s not going to be that easy,” Lindenmeyer said. “But I want to go out there and prove them wrong– that people can recover.”

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