Second Chance Job In Tampa Will Create A Better Community For Everyone

We are told in Isaiah not to remember old things, nor to consider old things. And yet, thanks to the historical legacy of injustice, we have an inhumane return system for convicted Americans that weighs on too many families.

Luis Viera [ Provided ]

Second Chance Employment, Workforce Development and Community Reintegration are at the heart of many of our conversations today: public safety, healthy neighborhoods and social equality. All of these issues are influenced by how we reintegrate returning citizens into society.

That’s why we’re working with stakeholders on immediate steps that can be taken in Tampa to improve this process.

Neil folz
Neil folz [ Provided ]

Each year, approximately three-quarters of a million Americans are released from state and federal prisons. For all of us, this is an important time – a time of hope for a better life and a safer community.

Sadly, two-thirds of these Americans will be re-arrested within three years of their release. They are almost five times more likely to be unemployed and 10 times more likely to be homeless. In no way can these numbers be considered more than a failure. After all, the people they represent are not just statistics. They are moms and dads, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters. They are our neighbors, friends and colleagues. And yet, we continue on the same path. We all deserve better.

We have worked with various organizations – including the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation, the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, Abe Brown Ministries and others – to create a reintegration program for our local government and community stakeholders. This means a program involving not only the public sector, but the heart of our communities: our families, our businesses and our places of worship.

Our program has four components that support a stool of safer communities, stronger businesses and a better chance of community reintegration for returning citizens and families:

First, we should use the contracting process to encourage entrepreneurs to ‘ban the box’ and hire returning citizens. “Ban the box” means employers don’t ask about an applicant’s criminal record until late in the application process, giving returning citizens a chance to show their qualifications. Contractors who meet this threshold in their employment practices should receive additional points in the contracting process.

Second, we should have a partner from Tampa County and Hillsborough in a formal learning program for returning citizens. With a modest commensurate investment from both entities, we could begin this process and partner with organizations to give returning citizens and their families a path to lifelong skills.

Third, we are working with our local chambers of commerce on a commitment from their members to hire an agreed number of returning citizens.

And finally, we know that reintegration programs are not only about nourishing the stomach, but also healing the soul and giving hope. Here, our places of worship are essential. There is no greater ally in this movement to give a voice to the voiceless, welcome the marginalized and restore the forgiven. Therefore, we look forward to strengthening the work of our places of worship by supporting the development of citizen return ministries.

All of these come together for a central organizing principle: the vital importance of changing the discourse and personal prejudices that many of us have about returning citizens. It is a narrative and a bias that we all need to overcome. Convinced people are like everyone else: Studies show that convinced people get promotions and show loyalty at the same rate as people without conviction.

In addition, people who find work after a conviction are almost three times less likely to reoffend than those who do not have a job. This should give us hope. Instead of a punitive and biased return system that marginalizes people, we can create something built upon our common humanity – one person, one place of worship, and one government policy all at once.

These ideas and others recognize that a successful transition for a returning citizen is more than not being arrested again. A successful transition means productive work. It means returning to your family, having dignity, being a provider and a role model. It means having a place at the table of society. And that means believing that you are a stakeholder.

It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with our common morality, to live up to the upholders of our faith, and to work together, step by step, to face the most hurtful parts of our history in the world. hope for a better future.

By working together at the local level, we can help make the Tampa Bay area a second chance community.

Luis Viera represents District 7 on the Tampa City Council and Neil Volz is the Deputy Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

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