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How an Alabama DA Helped Ex-Offenders Find Second Chances at a Job Fair

Jefferson County DA Danny Carr began the Second Chance Hiring Fair in 2019 and has attracted hundreds of formerly jailed individuals looking for jobs. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Dozens of Birmingham area residents, many of whom had been released after serving time in jail or prison for non-violent offenses, left Boutwell Auditorium on Tuesday with job interviews and access to housing opportunities and other resources.

John Gross, who was charged with a misdemeanor in 2018, said he’s been to many job fairs but that those hadn’t worked out. At the Second Chance Jefferson County Hiring Fair on Tuesday employers were ready to make hires for good jobs, Gross said.

“As soon as I walked in, they were just like, ‘Hey.’ Everybody was pulling me in this direction, that direction, immediately trying to offer me employment, which is something that’s very hard to find right now, employment that actually keeps the lights on,” Gross said.

It’s important that job opportunities are available to everyone who wants them, he said.

“People don’t realize there are levels of people, and each type of person needs that attention, just like this. There are hiring fairs for everybody else,” Gross said. “Why are there not hiring fairs for people who made mistakes?”

The Jefferson County Second Chance Fair, which began in 2019

The Jefferson County Second Chance Fair, which began in 2019, attracted residents and a local employers like Dunn Construction, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama Power, Birmingham Water Works and Buffalo Rock, among others.

Additionally, education, housing and other resources were available for those in attendance, with representatives of Lawson State Community College, the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and Aletheia House.

The Second Chance Hiring Fair is a joint project of Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, the Alabama Career Center System and nonprofit Workfaith Birmingham and primarily for people who have been previously incarcerated or had other justice system-involvement. Criminal records were not a barrier to employment for those at the Boutwell on Tuesday.

At the fair, Carr said those who showed up can “get gainful employment and change the trajectory of their lives.”

Edward Cargill, who served about five years in prison, said he’s considering janitorial positions for a few companies who were at the fair. The first seven years after leaving incarceration are the most difficult for finding a job, he said.

Edward Cargill, who served about five years in prison, said he was encouraged by the janitorial positions that he learned about during the hiring fair. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

“It is rough for anybody just getting out, if they don’t have programs like [the job fair], that help them get back on their feet because everywhere I went [when I first got out], that was the problem. You got stuff on your record …,” Cargill said.

The DA said he was pleased by the “overwhelming” turnout and added Tuesday’s fair was probably been the largest since it began four years ago.

While the position of DA is considered the chief law enforcement officer of a county, Carr said it’s important for the office to find ways to remedy the issues of crime and poverty.

“When you’re in a position of leadership, leadership is not about being right. It’s about making things right, and we’re able to make things right by doing this job fair, right from the perch of the district attorney’s office,” Carr said.