By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Thousands flocked to the Pennsylvania Convention Center today for a city-sponsored “Re-Entry Exposition” for ex-offenders.
The event was rescheduled after an attempt to hold the same job fair two months ago was suddenly cancelled because of the overwhelming turnout.
Today, the thousands of men and women with résumés in hand stood in orderly lines to speak with employers that included Modell’s, Acme, and Walmart, and to apply for services like job and literacy training.
And the feedback was far more positive than it was ten weeks ago (see previous story).
“The city really stepped up this time,” said Anthony Able of West Oak Lane, who has been unemployed for over a year. “It was well worth the trip. It’s giving people a second chance at making a nice impression at life.
“This is something well put together, well-organized,” said Tyeisha Gamble, 27. She has a college degree, but is unemployed because she says a seven-year-old assault charge bars her from many jobs. But, she says, the job fair gives hope.
“I feel empowered just having these companies here who will approve because I have a background,” she told KYW Newsradio.
The mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders (“RISE”) organized the event, which is in its fifth year.
“The turnout has been fantastic,” noted mayor Michael Nutter. “The message is: there is opportunity out here. We are encouraging employers to take another look, give a second chance to someone who has a criminal record and wants to turn their life around.”
Bill Hart, executive director of RISE, says the exposition was bigger this year than in years past.
“We have 105 employers, 100 service providers,” he said. “We’re going to do an expungement clinic downstairs for about 300 people, which equates to about half a million dollars in free legal services,” he added.
Hart says the impact of ex-offender unemployment is felt all across Philadelphia, which has a population of about 1.5 million people.
“My conservative guess is that 200,000 citizens have criminal convictions. My liberal guess is 300,000,” says Hart. “If you multiply it by the folks that come home and have to take care of an elderly parent or a child, half a million people could be impacted by the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. If we want Philadelphia to be a world-class city, we must address the needs of folks who are hardest to serve.”
Hart says 3,200 people pre-registered for the event and scores more signed up on site.