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By Scott Bandle

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jason Taylor has been a real estate agent, loan officer and environmental consultant. At times, he earned $27 a hour. Then he got into trouble with the law in 2005 and was put on probation.

Everything changed. Since then, he has had a difficult time finding a job - let alone one that matched any of his previous salaries.

"Some companies have policies against hiring someone on parole," said Taylor, 39, of Florissant. "It doesn't matter if your crime has nothing to do with your job. They just won't hire you. You're best chance is with a small and personal company."

That's why he started AAA Enterprises LLC in 2008, finishing rehab projects for property owners. He didn't want to start his own company, but he felt he had no choice.

Taylor is on probation until 2012 for domestic violence against his ex-wife in 2005. He has one child and must pay child support. He has remarried.

Under parole, an offender is monitored by the Missouri Department of Corrections and must follow certain terms and conditions for a certain amount of time. If those conditions are broken, the offender can go back to jail.

Finding full-time employment is key to keeping offenders on track.

A variety of community groups, working with the state's probation department, formed the St. Louis Alliance for Reentry (STAR) as an information clearinghouse. With STAR, probation officers easily can see all of the programs available for parolees. Then, STAR works to choose the best way to help a parolee.

"We've got business, religious, educational institutions and other groups with us," said Donna King, administrator for District II of the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole. "Our mission is the successful intervention that will help the ex-offender become self-sufficient and to reduce recidivism."

Statistics show 91 percent of Missouri's prisoners will be released back to the community, most of them on parole, said Herbert L. Bernsen, acting director for St. Louis County Justice Services.

Without full-time employment, 54 percent will return to prison.

"They need a variety of programs," Bernsen said. "Their problems include mental health, education, drug abuse and job training."

Some STAR participants include the University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis City Department of Human Services, Washington University, Missouri Department of Corrections, Missouri Department of Mental Health, Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis and others. STAR is an offshoot of a 2006 program called the Missouri Eastern Region Reentry Group Effort (MERRGE). It was established as part of the Missouri Reentry Process.

No taxpayer money is used for STAR. These groups each have their own funding.

Parolees must deal with the stigma of having a criminal record, said Laneisha Colevin, 19, of Jennings. On probation since 2009, she finally found work at a McDonald's restaurant.

"You're trying to get a job and move on with your life," she said. "Isn't that a good thing? Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?"

Colevin used another person's credit card to purchase some items. If she finishes her parole by 2012 without any problems, it will be wiped off her record. She is studying for her GED and hopes to earn a job in law enforcement.

Taylor and Colevin say they have no intention of breaking their paroles. They know people who have broken parole and gone back to jail.

"If they can't find work, they'll just revert back to their old practices," Taylor said.