BANGOR, Maine — America’s most famous criminal defense attorney urged area business leaders on Wednesday to hire ex-convicts through an early-release employment program at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.
Bailey, 76, of Boston spoke to the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s Early Bird Breakfast at the Ramada Inn about the Work Ready Program at the prison.
He said that a similar program in the 1970s and 1980s in Michigan reduced the recidivism rate from about 75 percent to less than 25 percent.
Bailey, who owns Oxford Aviation in Oxford, said that firm hired a former bank robber who had learned upholstery skills in prison and was a highly motivated worker. He urged business owners at the breakfast to try it.
“It’s a good deal for the inmate, it’s a good deal for the company and a good deal for the other employees, who offer support to the former inmate,” he said. “It’s also a good deal for the state of Maine, because there will be an extra $50,000 per inmate in the exchequer.”
He said that businesses participating in the program also would qualify for federal tax credits.
Bailey estimated the cost of incarceration in Maine is $50,000 per year per inmate.
Inmates in the program are carefully screened, he said. People convicted of sex and violent crimes are ineligible.
Kristen Stevens, coordinator of the program, said after the event that the response to Bailey’s presentation was “wonderful.” She said 12 to 15 people expressed interest in the program and took her business card.
Over the past two years, 36 inmates have been through the program, which teaches job-hunting, resume-writing and interviewing skills, she said. Twelve of them have found employment and just two have re-offended and returned to the prison, she said.
Her office recently received a one-year $40,000 grant from the Florence V. Burden Foundation through Volunteers of America, which runs pretrial service programs in Maine. The money will allow Stevens to spend more time helping inmates find employment and staying in touch with them and the employer after release.
A 21-year-old man from Eddington is due to be released from the Windham prison and return to the Bangor area in three weeks, she said. He has training in customer service and auto body work, she said, but declined to give his name. She said he was sentenced to one year in prison for a nonviolent crime that was not drug-related.
Bailey also gave a speech about the program in June in Portland. In addition, he made a presentation last year to the Prison Industries Reform Committee, a panel of corrections officials and business owners, about the issue.
The criminal defense attorney gained notoriety for defending Dr. Sam Sheppard, Patty Hearst, O.J. Simpson and others. He said after the breakfast that the highlight of his career was the Sheppard case and the lowest point was the Hearst case.
Bailey said after the breakfast that he planned to move to Maine as soon as he found a house in Yarmouth. He said he lived there for a decade as a child.
He was jailed briefly in 1996 for refusing to turn over to a court illegally obtained shares of stock and money from a client convicted of dealing drugs. Bailey later was disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts for his conduct related to that case. He no longer practices law but works as a consultant.