A job fair in the Rountree Detention Center will help inmates find jobs, the first ever employment fair inside a county jail in the country.

The job fair is an expansion of a previous program that started about 18 months, involving 3 county jails. On Wednesday, about 20 Rountree inmates, wearing gray jail clothes and khakis met with some of the employers-to-be.

The fair was mainly open to inmates who would be released soon and those of medium-level offenders. Lieutenant Paul Ramos of the county sheriff expressed his joy and pride of the participants as he saw their concern about their future. Ramos said the fair was to give the inmates some tools.

The activity involved introductions with the employers as well as a panel discussion about the most common pitfalls within the felon’s job searches. The Sheriff’s Office and Alcance were the event’s organizer, which is a city-based, nonprofit program of the Community Action Board. Javier Diaz, Alcance program coordinator, said that encouraging employers to consider felons has never been that easy, describing the toughness of the situation, although many are still willing to help the entire community. Hence, it is crime prevention, allowing them to have a job straight from the jail, which is a positive and constructive thing.

There are federal incentives that involve the hiring of felons, which many skeptical employers are unaware of. Diaz said many of them are unaware of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, for example, wherein they could likewise benefit from it. The leaders of the jail to job leaders are hoping to train participants to coordinate with employers about such benefits and incentives in the future.

During the past 18 months, Diaz and the Alcance mentors have helped several inmates get jobs, and have followed up on them after they were hired. The leaders also believe that they take responsibility for their clients, and they make sure they tell them that. The “convicted felon” box on employment application forms has been the main barrier to employment among the inmates.

Diaz explained that the best way to deal with that is upfront, instead of it coming out through a background check. The applicant, he added, should be prepared to explain about the conviction.

For inmate Walter Olsen, 45, a commercial burglary puts him to jail, while his drug addiction has forced him to steal just to feed his bad habit. He had an interview on Wednesday with an employer that is looking for employees to work with the product development, administration, and inventory.

Olsen admitted his health consciousness afterwards, saying that diabetes runs in his blood, thus, excited to work in a company that markets healthy food. He also said that it will be a very good motivation for him. Olsen also expressed his appreciation regarding the job fair, considering it as a head start for a life outside jail, allowing a smooth transition back to the society, otherwise, he would be lost, he said.

Chief financial officer Jack Cheney of Wonderfully Raw company said he participated in the job fair because he previously worked in a prison once, saying that he and his team are willing to help former inmates get back on their feet through a decent employment. Cheney added the importance of opening doors to those who need a second chance.

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