By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A springtime job fair in center city Philadelphia put a spotlight on the city’s growing population of ex-offenders, creating a ripple effect of change across the city.
On May 17th, a city-sponsored job fair for ex-offenders turned into a national story. The city expected about a thousand applicants, but more than times that many showed up.
They stood in thick lines that wrapped around the Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall. One man said he had been looking for work for the past two years.
Slowly the lines broke down, forcing the city to shut down the event (see related story).
“We took as many résumés as we could,” Everett Gillison, deputy mayor of safety, said afterward. “We’re almost a victim of our success: last year 435 people got jobs.”
Bill Hart, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Reintegration Services (“RISE”), says the incident underscored the need for employment for nearly a quarter-million Philadelphians with criminal convictions in their past. And he noted that the difficulty ex-felons have getting jobs affects their families, too.
“We could say that three, four, five-thousand Philadelphia residents are impacted by criminal convictions,” he said.
In July, RISE helped the city redo the job fair by holding it at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Thousands attended, with much success (see related story).
“This is something well put together, well organized,” noted one attendee.
And since then, more programs have been proposed to help ex-offenders put their past in the past.
This fall, the mayor and City Council instituted policy changes to remake ex-offenders by officially eliminating the term “ex-con” and “ex-offender” from the City Code. Now, the formerly incarcerated are referred to as “returning citizens” (see related story).
“This will encourage employers to take a second look, give a second chance to someone who may have a past but wants to turn their life around,” said Mayor Michael Nutter.