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Crime doesn’t pay: Career fair aims to get ex-cons working again
by Joshua H. Silavent
Aug 02, 2011 | 3492 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/John Byrne - Steven Burt, executive director of The Ridge House, hands out a pamphlet Tuesday during a career fair for ex-cons who have been released from jail and are seeking work.
Tribune/John Byrne - Steven Burt, executive director of The Ridge House, hands out a pamphlet Tuesday during a career fair for ex-cons who have been released from jail and are seeking work.
RENO — Ex-cons have a hard enough time finding gainful employment after they are released from jail, without adding the current economic misfortunes of the country to the mix.

For example, employers will inevitably inquire about their prior criminal indiscretions. So, for many offenders, the past comes back to haunt future job prospects.

The Ridge House and Safe Harbors of Nevada, nonprofits that provide prisoner re-entry programs, held a career resource fair at the Evelyn Mount Northeast Community Center on Tuesday in the hopes of improving workplace opportunities for convicted felons.

More than a dozen vendors, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Nevada Department of Corrections and Nevada Job Connect, showed up to offer legal, financial and other resources, while several employers were on hand to sift through potential candidates.

Among those candidates was Jessie Moran, who could be seen filling out applications and dropping off his resume.

Released last week from a year-long stint in prison for stealing cars, the 24-year-old Reno resident said he is trying to get back on his feet and make things right.

“I’ve learned it’s easier than I thought,” he said.

Moran’s optimism stems in part from the housing assistance and other support he is receiving from The Ridge House. And the career fair, which officials believed would draw more than 100 attendees, only contributed to the feeling that Moran was on the verge of a second chance.

Johnny Skowronek might one day provide that chance to Moran or any number of former inmates.

Skowronek was on hand representing Square 1 Solutions, a family-owned business in Sparks that fills temporary construction and other day-labor jobs — work that suits many ex-cons.

“It’s good for us and good for them,” Skowronek said.

Maurice Correa, owner of Mo Music, a car audio and security installation business in Sparks, was interested to see just what kind of prospective employees would attend the career fair.

Of the 10 or so ex-cons he had spoken with, “two have what it takes” to work for him, Correa said.

Whether a job comes to Charles Clark, 30, or Sonya Beatty, 28, remains uncertain. But both were taking advantage of the career fair, shaking hands and introducing themselves to anyone who would listen.

“I found some real good resources,” said Clark, who was recently released from prison after serving time for an attempted theft conviction.

But with unemployment in the Reno-Sparks area at a staggering 13 percent, finding a job that pays the bills is harder than ever for those with a rap sheet.

“I can’t get a job in my field,” said Beatty, a certified medical assistant. Part of the problem is her criminal profile, which includes a check fraud charge, and the other part is the economic forces keeping unemployment levels at record highs.

Advocates at the career fair stressed some of the upside associated with hiring former convicts.

For example, Nevada provides a Work Opportunity Tax Credit to employers who hire people from target groups, such as ex-felons, veterans and food stamp recipients.

Getting ex-cons working again also lowers recidivism rates, saves governments money on corrections costs and reduces the need for welfare benefits and other social services, advocates argue.

“(The career fair) allows us to talk about the importance of re-entry,” said Steven Burt, executive director of The Ridge House, adding that he intends to host another similar resource fair in December or January.

The fair also aims to wash away the many stigmas associated with criminals who have served time in prison, giving people like Moran a new lease on life. Now it’s up to him to take the reins.

“I’m hoping for the best,” Moran said.

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