CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — It can be tough to find a job if you have been incarcerated or have struggled with substance abuse. So now, employers are getting trained to accept the formerly incarcerated or recovering addicts back into society with the “Back to Work” project.

Those who have struggled with addiction or have been in a prison cell say they have the odds stacked against them when it’s time to step back into the real world.

“When a West Virginian gets out of prison or jail, they can have a potential number of 851 barriers to their employment,” said Jacob Green, superintendent of the West Virginia Schools of Diversion and Transition.

People like Green and Stacey Nichols who work with people in recovery are trying to break down those barriers; one person at a time.

“Individuals who are incarcerated are not who their status is,” said Nichols, senior outreach coordinator for Oxfords House West Virginia. “Individuals who are incarcerated can come out and are good employees, they’re loyal employees, they’re hard-working employees.”

The “Back to Work Re-Entry and Recovery Conference” was all about educating and preparing employers to hire people who are trying to start a new chapter in their lives as they focus on their recovery.

“We are more than willing, it’s honestly a privilege,” said Michelle Marsich with Conservation Legacy. “These are individuals who need opportunities to support themselves and their families, and we are really looking to support individuals across this country.”

The companies that provide those opportunities are provided an incentive as well.
 
“You know, there is a tax benefit for an employer who does hire someone who’s formerly incarcerated or coming out of substance use treatment,” Green said.

Recent data from the West Virginia Department of Education shows the number of West Virginians incarcerated has grown five-fold over the last 30 years, and there’s a large population of people who will be re-entering society soon.

“This demographic of people that can be productive, that can rebuild their lives and that are valuable to society and valuable to these companies as employees,” Nichols said.