Thursday, February 29, 2024

Tuscaloosa County offers jobs portal to help people with criminal backgrounds

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A new online portal aims to help job-seekers who have criminal backgrounds find employment opportunities in West Alabama.

The Building Hope website launched in mid-March at buildinghopeal.com. The portal already has 86 positions posted with salaries ranging from $9 to $30 per hour. Each employer has agreed to be willing to hire people with a criminal history. The portal is a collaborative effort by the Tuscaloosa County Commission, WestAlabama Works!, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama’s workforce development arm, and the Just Trust, a national nonprofit group that provides grants for criminal justice reform efforts.

“One challenge for individuals that have been involved with the justice system can be finding employment. This innovative program not only allows those individuals to find a variety of jobs, but it creates a one-stop shop for wrap-around services in our community,” said Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge Rob Robertson, who also serves as the chairman of the Tuscaloosa County Commission.

Alabama has the sixth-highest rate of incarceration in the country and more than 300,000 Alabamians have felony convictions, according to a news release. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is 27%, according to recidiviz.org.

A 2021 Department of Corrections report shows that nearly 29% of the people released from prison in Alabama end up returning to prison within three years.

Robertson said the Building Hope program will provide a unique solution to these persistent issues.

“This program will not only help, but will also reduce recidivism rates by giving those individuals every opportunity to be more successful and productive,” he said.

Tonya Mills, the education and employment project manager for WestAlabamaWorks!, said the Building Hope program will also benefit thousands of families. 

“As a retired school counselor, I’ve seen how incarceration can devastate families. The purpose of our site is to not only provide hope to individuals who have been involved with the justice system, but we hope to positively impact their families as well,” Mills said.

Businesses that want to partner with the Building Hope program can register at buildinghopeal.com/employer-benefits or email Mills at tonya@westalabamachamber.com

“We named it Building Hope so justice-involved individuals can have hope that there is a path forward,” Mills said. “There are a lot of barriers to success for justice-involved individuals and it can be frustrating. We are hoping to eliminate those challenges by providing a site where they can find employment and a link to the community supports they need to be successful.”

Reach Ken Roberts at ken.roberts@tuscaloosanews.com.

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