In May, the city was caught off-guard when a job fair for ex-offenders drew around 3,000 job-seekers, way beyond the event’s capacity. They shut the whole thing down, and promised to put together another event, one that would be bigger and better (or at least better planned).
This morning at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, they delivered. By 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, around 3,200 prospective employees had pre-registered, according to LaMonte Williams of the Mayor’s Office of Re-Integration Services for Ex-Offenders, and hundreds more were lining up at the door for on-site registration. The event included job-interview training, an expungement clinic that would take on 300 individuals' cases, and an expo with around a hundred employers.
Compared to some ex-offenders, Isaac Fullman, 31, is in good shape. He’s never been to prison and his record includes only a misdemeanor — not a felony. But he was laid off from his job eight months ago, and has been looking ever since. As to what’s standing in his way, he says, “I believe it’s the economy more than anything.” But he has applied for a pardon to remove the misdemeanor from his record. That process goes through the state Board of Pardons in Harrisburg. His estimated wait time? Four and a half years. Fullman hopes to find a new job, as a cook or general laborer, long before then.
Everett Gillison, the Mayor’s chief of staff, says the first ex-offender job fair the city ran, five years ago, drew 200 candidates and placed 25 of them in jobs. Now, the city is working on a much larger scale.
In fact, says Williams, other municipalities have been calling RISE with questions. “The whole country is looking on to see how this goes today," he says.
Williams was hired six months ago as the junior man in RISE’s two-person career-development team, which places more than 500 people in jobs each year. Behind the scenes, they cultivate relationships with employers who may be attracted by the tax breaks and city fidelity bonds that come with hiring ex-offenders — and then come to realize that this class of employees has a lot to offer.
“They’re finding their turnover rates decrease,” Williams says. “They’re finding these individuals are very prompt, reliable. They have a need to succeed more than someone walking in off the street.”
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