Job fair held to help convicted felons re-enter society

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Several organizations are teaming up to put Arkansans to work.

Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, along with the Arkansas Community Correction and HUB in Jonesboro hosted a "Re-entry Job Fair for Returning Citizens" on Friday.

The fair took place in Jonesboro on Friday inside the Christian Activities Center on Union.

Tammy Zagala with Arkansas Community Correction said they're trying to give felons the resources they need to be productive.

"This is re-entry week for Arkansas Community Corrections," Zagala said. "All week we've had opportunities for felons to come and talk with us about job opportunities, health opportunities. We are supplying resources. We have talked with a number of employers. This is a second chance and our second year for the event. We have a job resource today, which is our big event. It started on Monday and we've had something in Craighead County, Mississippi County and Greene County all week long. Every day, we've had something different."

Zagala said this is a real problem for people who want to do better and just start over.

"There are so many people who are just re-entering into society," Zagala said. "And it's very difficult to get a job when you have that felon hanging over you. There are many employers who get a tax break when they hire felons. And these people, they want to go to work. They want to get their children back. They want to get a home. They want to be in society, accepted back into society. These are the things they want."

Stephanie Barker with Goodwill Industries said this is a big problem in our area.

"One of the big problems we have recidivism rates," Barker said. "They are very high in Arkansas because people get out of incarceration, they don't get the help they need. They have barriers as far as jobs go, housing and all those issues. These, sometimes, become a huge barrier for them. So, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas and Arkansas Community Correction have partnered to try and bring services to the people. We have all the help agencies and employers together under one roof to try and provide them with all the help they need."

Zagala said even after one serves their time in prison, it's hard for them to start over when they truly want to.

"It's a very big hurdle for them to cross," Zagala said. "We have so many wonderful life stories of people who have come out of corrections and have made a life for themselves. They've gotten their children back and are working. They're going to school, to college and getting a degree. It's just made a world of difference with the re-entry."

Barker said in order to make our community better, we have to help them break the cycle they're in.

"It's a huge domino effect," Barker said. "Because what happens is the person gets out of incarceration and they come out hoping to get help. If they don't get the help they need, they're going to go back to what they understand the most and that's life on the streets. And they're going to end up getting into trouble again and go right back to jail. But if we can give them the help they need, we're going to stop that. We're going to break that cycle to where their families get involved and they're able to support their families with a good job. They're proud of themselves and their confidence goes up and that helps to stop that vicious cycle of getting out of incarceration, getting into society and getting back into trouble because there's no help. And then right back to where they were. We have got to break that cycle."

Jonesboro resident Antonio Whitney was released from prison about a month ago.

Whitney said this program is a valuable one to help people who want to get their lives on track.

"Everyone isn't a bad person," Whitney said. "Even though they've made bad decisions in their life. They just need a second chance and people are willing to change their life."

Barker said helping these people start over ultimately benefits everyone.

"By them becoming a productive member of society," Barker said. "It's not going to cost so much money to house them. Right now, it costs approximately $22,000 a year to house one inmate. Whereas if we rehabilitate them, bring them back out into society. Give them jobs and give them a chance, they're going to be productive and those tax rates are going to go down for all the rest of us. Also, there are tax breaks for employers as far as for every one inmate that comes to work at their facility, they get over $2,000 tax break on each individual employee."

Whitney said the Job Fair was a great idea.

"I think this is a good idea," Whitney said. "For people who have been incarcerated and are being released back into society to give themselves a second chance to make better decisions as far as going on with their life."

Zagala said they work to get them every opportunity they can.

"It's kind of a new opportunity that has just started," Zagala said. "It's just something that we try to put on every year. We have classes where they come in and they have a template and they learn to build a resume and a letter of explanation, so they can give that to employers. They meet with a career specialist. That is all done mainly at the Goodwill. They send them out on job opportunities. We meet with lots of personnel agencies and keep very close contact with them."

Zagala said all you have to do is talk to them to see how much they want to work for themselves and their families.

"Take the opportunity to speak with some of these folks," Zagala said. "These people that come in and want to go to work. If they're on supervision, they have to abide by all the rules. You're going to have a good employee. These people want to turn their life around and make good choices. This is a second chance."

The fair took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and had 31 vendors.

This is the second year for them to hold the event.

For more information about this program, you can contact the Jonesboro Career Center with Goodwill at (870) 268-0443 or click here for their website.

You can also contact the HUB at (870) 333-5731 or click here for their facebook page.

For more information about Arkansas Community Correction, click here.

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