Career fair in Mecklenburg Co. Jail is getting the job done

Program helps connect former inmates with job opportunities

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden wants to keep career fairs going inside the jails. The career fair has been happening for years and McFadden wants to take it to the next level.

So far this year, there have been two career fairs inside the Mecklenburg County Jail, with 50 inmates who have participated in them. There were multiple job offers and several hires.

“Statistically, over 95% of all incarcerated individuals will be released,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office Director of Adult Programs Dorian Johnson said, “and the question for us as a society is - how do we want them released.”

Johnson says the biggest challenge for former residents is getting access to housing, which he says the sheriff’s office works with residents constantly to help secure. Johnson says finding inmates a job immediately can make a difference.

“Employment is one of the major critical needs providing these opportunities,” Johnson said. “Giving individuals hope is something that will reduce the stress once they get out of custody. The higher the stress, the more likely they will end up back incarcerated.”

The sheriff’s office says it is not surprised that employers agree to give jail residents another chance at employment. The hope is to have more employers to sign up. The sheriff’s office will soon host “lunch and learn” sessions to educate other employers about the benefits of hiring people getting out of jail.

Johnson says there is already a diverse group of companies trying to help.

“There are a variety of employers,” Johnson said. “Construction, we have dog training, dog grooming. We have restaurants, hotels and hospitality - all of them have advancement opportunities. But again, it depends on that resident and how they take advantage of those opportunities.”

Amanda Samuel, in jail for a probation violation, was approached about participating in the job fair. Samuel says the jail helped with resume writing, interviewing skills, and donated business attire. Samuel was skeptical about participating but realized she had to sign up.

“I knew that I was going to need something once I was released - knowing the troubles and struggles of trying to find a job with my kind of background - so I was willing to give it a chance,” Samuel said.

Samuel did get hired by the company LSG Skychef about two weeks after she got out of jail. She says getting a job was important and shows that, despite her arrest, she shouldn’t be counted out.

“I’ve been trying to prove myself to society for four years - that I’m not that person that made the mistake, and I feel like there’s a lot of repeat offending going on because it’s hard - people have families to provide for, bills to pay - not to mention if you are on parole you have extra fees,” Samuel said.

The sheriff’s office says it will continue to help give opportunities to people who are leaving jail. The office believes that is the right thing to do. Johnson says some of the inmates who got a job from the career fair have moved on to other jobs.

Samuel has a child and knows the importance of keeping a job.

“I know that I have a stepping stone,” Samuel said, “because people like to see continuation of a history of employment.”

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