BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The labor shortage is still taking a toll on companies in the Capital Area. Many owners are looking for new ways to get help, including giving former inmates a second chance.

“There’s nothing like that first paycheck when you get that first paycheck for something you’ve earned. I mean, I still remember the $280 I made first week washing dishes,” said Ideal Market Marketing and Operations Director Benito Castro.

Castro spent four years in a Louisiana corrections facility for fraud related to gambling addiction. During his time in the facility, he also earned a degree.

“It seemed that my incarceration was made worthwhile,” said Castro.

He climbed the ladder at Ideal Market pretty quickly after starting off washing dishes.

“Then someone hired me to manage the meat department of a supermarket. They asked me if I wanted to manage one of their stores, which I did,” he explained.

Castro now serves in a corporate capacity with Ideal Market and helps recruit other inmates to the company.

“We have hired 19 former offenders. Sixteen are still with us. One is now a manager of one of our locations in Baton Rouge. Two moved on to better things and one fell by the wayside. That’s the best statistics I got,” Castro stated.

He said he’s seen more and more companies looking into this massive labor pool. It started with a few and now there are dozens he works with.

“You have project managers. You have cooks, caterers, I mean, welders — everything to keep the department moving and network they do for them. They can do for the private sector,” stated Castro. 

“They tend to be more loyal. They tend to be more appreciative. They tend to work harder in many cases,” added State Corrections Department Assistant Secretary Rhett Covington.

He said their Return for Good program securely connects inmates with employers.

“It allows the person who’s incarcerated to place their resumé in the portal, to answer questions through a monitored email system with employers who can also register their profile post jobs and then we work with them at the facility level to facilitate the interview right now,” he explained.

He said the labor shortage has shifted the employer’s mentality.

“Before, to an employer, it would mean things like not knowing how to treat people, they don’t stay with the company very long. That’s pretty much what we’re starting to see in the workforce in general now. So the label means less,” said Covington.

The corrections department and 18 employers held a virtual job fair last week. There were 26 job offers and nearly one hundred people will be called back for an interview.

The state will soon have the technology for inmates and employers to meet face-to-face more often.