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Ex-offenders will salvage building materials in new green program

by Mari Fagel
Oct 07, 2009

The Chicago City Council approved funds today for a program that will hire ex-offenders to remove recyclable materials from buildings scheduled for demolition. The Deconstruction Work Services and Training program will employ 140 former inmates over the next two years to salvage recyclable building materials and re-sell them.

“The deconstruction program applies green techniques to the demolition of city properties and combines that with the initiative to help ex-offenders,” said Anthony Simpkins, the deputy commissioner for housing preservation.

The program will spend approximately $4.5 million to strip about 10 to 15 commercial properties around the city. It is part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Green Jobs for All initiative, which will use more than $16 million in federal stimulus funds to create green jobs for ex-offenders. Daley is aiming to create 650 jobs in total through this initiative.

“This is an exciting initiative," said Amy Santacaterina, the director of programs for the Department of Community Development. "We hope it can be a real model for other cities as we go forward.”

City staffers will work with the SAFER foundation and Breaking Ground to hire and train ex-offenders. The work crews will learn skills including stripping down the building, sorting for re-usable materials and re-selling those materials. Any funds raised by re-sale will go back into the program.

The program's benefits are three-fold, said Robert Hudson, the vice president of social enterprises for the SAFER foundation.

 “Deconstruction is more cost-effective than demolition, he said. "Environmentally it diverts more material from the landfill, and it provides more jobs for ex-offenders because knowing how to disassemble a building is a marketable skill."

Teaching ex-offenders a marketable skill is key to keeping them out of prison, according to Jeff Dennis, the executive director of Breaking Ground.

“The more skills they have," said Dennis, "the business can’t get by without them, and they are less likely to be fired. They are a lot more viable for long-term sustainable employment with a marketable skill, as opposed to just picking up a job for the Christmas shopping season. [That] puts them back on the streets in January.”

Ex-offenders are four times more likely to commit a crime and return to prison if they don’t find work, Hudson said. Job training programs not only keep the streets safe, he said. They also save money.

“The cost of keeping one person incarcerated is $27,000 a year, said Hudson. "For this minimal investment, you are getting tremendous returns economically.”

The program will run through March 31, 2012.


The Chicago City Council approved funds today for a program that will hire ex-offenders to remove recyclable materials from buildings scheduled for demolition. The Deconstruction Work Services and Training program will employ 140 former inmates over the next two years to salvage recyclable building materials and re-sell them.

“The deconstruction program applies green techniques to the demolition of city properties and combines that with the initiative to help ex-offenders,” said Anthony Simpkins, the deputy commissioner for housing preservation.

The program will spend approximately $4.5 million to strip about 10 to 15 commercial properties around the city. It is part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Green Jobs for All initiative, which will use more than $16 million in federal stimulus funds to create green jobs for ex-offenders. Daley is aiming to create 650 jobs in total through this initiative.

“This is an exciting initiative," said Amy Santacaterina, the director of programs for the Department of Community Development. "We hope it can be a real model for other cities as we go forward.”

City staffers will work with the SAFER foundation and Breaking Ground to hire and train ex-offenders. The work crews will learn skills including stripping down the building, sorting for re-usable materials and re-selling those materials. Any funds raised by re-sale will go back into the program.

The program's benefits are three-fold, said Robert Hudson, the vice president of social enterprises for the SAFER foundation.

 “Deconstruction is more cost-effective than demolition, he said. "Environmentally it diverts more material from the landfill, and it provides more jobs for ex-offenders because knowing how to disassemble a building is a marketable skill."

Teaching ex-offenders a marketable skill is key to keeping them out of prison, according to Jeff Dennis, the executive director of Breaking Ground.

“The more skills they have," said Dennis, "the business can’t get by without them, and they are less likely to be fired. They are a lot more viable for long-term sustainable employment with a marketable skill, as opposed to just picking up a job for the Christmas shopping season. [That] puts them back on the streets in January.”

Ex-offenders are four times more likely to commit a crime and return to prison if they don’t find work, Hudson said. Job training programs not only keep the streets safe, he said. They also save money.

“The cost of keeping one person incarcerated is $27,000 a year, said Hudson. "For this minimal investment, you are getting tremendous returns economically.”

The program will run through March 31, 2012.