Apploi offers technology to turn more inmates into employees

Start-up wants to put job-application kiosks in jails and prisons

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, newly released inmates are most likely to commit a crime in the first three days they walk out of jail. 

There are probably plenty of reasons for that -- for starters, the easy availability of drugs and alcohol and the bad influence of former associates. Nevertheless, it stands to reason that someone who has a job waiting on his or her release has a greater chance of avoiding a quick return to the slammer than someone who doesn't.

With that in mind, a New York-based startup called Apploi is offering to donate 50 of its employment kiosks to prisons, jails or reentry centers around the country. The kiosks let people search by neighborhood for job openings in the service and support industries (e.g., retailers and restaurants), submit applications and participate in interactive video questionnaires.

The Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Maryland, which has a reputation for innovation, was the first to take up Apploi's offer. The company announced Wednesday that any other agencies interested in a kiosk should contact its staff via email.

Whether the employers who list jobs with Apploi will want to hire ex-cons remains to be seen. A stint behind bars doesn't exactly enhance an applicant's standing, and many of the people in jail don't have the degrees or work experience employers covet.

In California, the state prison system has education and training programs for inmates, and it is developing reentry centers to help short-time inmates prepare better for (law-abiding) life on the outside, said spokeswoman Dana Simas. But while it holds job fairs for parolees, there's no similar effort for inmates. They may be tutored on how to apply for a job, but there's nothing in the prisons to tell them where the jobs are.

The situation is similar in the Los Angeles County jails. Under former Sheriff Lee Baca, the jails launched an ambitious "education-based incarceration" program in an effort to make inmates more employable and less likely to commit crimes after their release. But it stops short of connecting inmates directly to employers who have positions to fill.

Apploi's software, which also runs as an app on tablets and smartphones, offers job-seekers the ability to create an electronic "passport" that, like a resume, provides the standard biographical bits that all prospective employers want to see. It also lets employers ask questions specific to their openings, and they can require applicants to record their answers on video through the kiosk's webcam.

According to federal research, as few as half of the roughly 9 million people released from jails each year are able to find jobs. That's a major factor in recidivism. Improving the employment statistics won't be easy, considering the limited education and job skills of many of those who are incarcerated. But telling inmates who's hiring for what jobs and making it easier for them to apply can't hurt.

"Apploi exists to open doors to jobs that all too often seem out of reach,” Apploi Chief Executive Adam Lewis said in a statement.  “So, for us, helping ex-offenders find and showcase their skills to prospective employers was not only the right thing to do, it seemed like a natural fit.”

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