by Eric Cochling | Jul 8, 2021
Help From Where You Least Expect It
“I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t find a better job; I might have to go back [to prison].”
Two months out of prison, Ray (name changed for anonymity) was explaining to me that he had reached the end of his rope. He had been struggling to find work that paid enough so that he could simply afford the basics. His part-time, minimum-wage job, just wasn’t cutting it. But, at least it was something.
Ray had the added complication of having to take custody of his son shortly after being released, meaning another mouth to feed when he could barely feed himself.
During his most desperate days after leaving prison, Ray said he was blessed to have the help of local church ministries who provided temporary housing for him and his son at a local extended stay hotel. He called GCO because that assistance was running out. He needed more help so he could remain at the extended stay but, more than that, Ray knew he had to solve the job problem to have any hope of getting off the hamster wheel he was on.
“I’m “clean” and have no intention of going back to that life.”
With a record that included drug and property crimes, Ray worried he might not have a shot at a better job. “But I’m willing to do any job that pays enough,” he assured me.
With those details in hand, our team started looking for the resources Ray needed and found some great opportunities for him and his son. There was a local church ministry offering help with additional days in the extended stay motel, there was the local restaurant eager to interview Ray for a better-paying job.
In the end, help came from a place Ray least expected it: the extended stay motel owner himself.
After hearing Ray’s story and observing him on the motel property, he offered Ray a job as a maintenance technician, a position that also included room and board on the motel property – an answer to Ray’s prayer for better pay and housing stability for him and his son.
The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.
Like Ray, you might be surprised the motel owner stepped in to help the way he did, but you shouldn’t be. Many times, our local business owners bridge the gap for those in need in big and small ways – from helping support the nonprofits that serve emergency needs to, like the motel owner did for Ray, helping directly.
Too often, it’s business owners who get the negative press and little credit for the good they do. In reality, as Ray’s story reminds us, they are a huge part of the solution to poverty – both in the jobs they provide through their risk-taking and in their philanthropy made possible through the profits they generate.
Is this the end of Ray’s story? I don’t think so. Ray seems to have a drive that’s going to keep him reaching for better opportunities and, of course, if we can help him, we’ll be here to do that.
The point is that Ray’s story isn’t unique. For those reaching out and seeking help – for housing, for work, for food – there are often caring community members willing to help.
And sometimes that help comes from the place you least expect it.
If you or someone you know is struggling to find employment in Gwinnett or is looking for help to meet their basic needs, please visit www.betterworkgwinnett.org to find resources or to be connected to one of our “guaranteed-interview” employment partners.
by Georgia Center for Opportunity | Feb 7, 2014
Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is pleased to see Governor Nathan Deal and U.S. Attorney Sally Yates (Northern District of Georgia) exercise their influence to encourage business leaders across the state to hire ex-offenders. They are urging employers to give ex-offenders a fair shot in the hiring process and outlining the benefits available to those who choose to hire them.
Governor Deal speaking at a Reentry Summit with U.S. Attorney Sally Yates on Feb. 5, 2014.
Image credit: Georgia.Gov, Office of the Governor.
These actions are consonant with recommendations made by GCO’s Prisoner Reentry Working Group this past December based on input from criminal justice practitioners in Georgia and a review of best practices across the country (See Increasing Employment Opportunities for Ex-Offenders).
One important recommendation made by the working group included increasing the chance that a person with a criminal record will get hired by postponing the question about an applicant’s criminal history to a point after the interview stage of the hiring process. Such an action would give the applicant an opportunity to demonstrate his or her qualifications for a job and provide an explanation for any criminal history to the employer during the interview. It also prevents an employer from automatically screening a candidate who may be the best fit for the position.
Another key recommendation made by the working group is that the state should set the example for other employers by hiring ex-offenders. This action would demonstrate that the state is serious about helping ex-offenders become employed and successfully transition back into society. We believe that the degree of success the state has in finding and maintaining qualified ex-offenders as employees will directly impact the willingness of private employers to adopt similar policies.
Read the following articles posted on February 6, 2014 in the Savannah Morning News to learn more about steps that the key state leaders are making to encourage businesses to hire ex-offenders: http://savannahnow.com/news/2014-02-06/ga-officials-urge-businesses-hire-ex-prisoners#.UvTmvLT-L1V.
by Georgia Center for Opportunity | Dec 3, 2013
The Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform invited organizations from across the state to present recommendations for improving ex-offender outcomes at the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Forsyth, Georgia, Tuesday, November 26.
Eric Cochling, VP of Policy Advancement for Georgia Center for Opportunity, testified before the council with proposals generated from GCO’s Prisoner Reentry Working Group on ways to improve employment opportunities for Georgia’s ex-offenders.
- Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Eric Cochling testifying before the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council.
He outlined the following five recommendations for the state to consider implementing:
- Lift driver’s license suspensions for drug offenders who have not committed a driving-related crime.
- Ensure offender’s identification is secured prior to release so they will be ready to apply for a job upon leaving prison.
- Incentivize employers to hire ex-offenders through offering tax credits or deductions, a bonding program, and protection from liability.
- Increase ex-offenders’ chances of being hired by postponing questions about criminal convictions until after an interview has been conducted, with the state setting the example by implementing this recommendation for public employment first.
- Lift professional licensing restrictions to allow ex-offenders to work in occupations that were previously off-limits to them because of a felony conviction that is unrelated to the professional license being sought.
Testifying before the Governor’s Council proved to be a critical first step in presenting GCO’s working group findings to state leaders, as the council consists of legislative, judicial, and executive appointees, as well as representatives from various sectors of criminal justice at the state and local level.
Established by the Governor in 2011 to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable while controlling state costs, the council has proposed significant reforms for adult sentencing and corrections and juvenile justice. Due to the success of the council’s recommendations and landmark legislation being passed during the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions, Governor Deal commissioned the council to focus on improving prisoner reentry in the state next year, too.
For the upcoming 2014 legislative session, the council is working diligently to compile the best recommendations for the state to implement to reduce recidivism. However, due to the scope of this assignment, bills outlining the council’s recommendations may be introduced over the next couple of sessions.
Eric’s presentation received a positive response from council members leading them to ask several follow-up questions about other states that have enacted similar reforms. GCO is grateful for the opportunity to present and hopes that the council seriously considers our recommendations.
The recommendations for increasing employment opportunities for ex-offenders represent a sample of the reforms being proposed by GCO’s working group. Future recommendations will likely include ways to reduce debt and increase savings for prisoners, establish reentry courts, and implement specialized transitional centers across the state, among others.