Indy job fair helps ex-offenders

WISH/DeAndra Taylor

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Finding a job is tough. Add a criminal conviction in your past and it can be nearly impossible.

However, employment can be crucial in helping former offenders stay out of trouble. That was the focus and reason for a different kind of job fair held in Indianapolis on Friday.

“I mean what about, I’m 45 years old, what about the other 44 years of my life where I had no prior convictions whatsoever?” Scott Caton said.

Caton needs work. He has a background in security, both at casinos and a correctional facility. But earlier this year, he spent 12 hours in jail for receiving stolen property and was put on probation.

“But when you do my background check, it comes up I have a felony offense, although it’s been suspended,” he says.

The 30 vendors at the job fair offer Caton and other ex-offenders hope.The unemployment rate in Indiana was 5.7 percent in September.

“And the unemployment rate for this group is more like 16 to 20 percent,” says Shonna Majors.

Majors is the Director of Employment and Transitional Services for Public Advocates in Community Re-Entry (PACE), the local non-profit that works to get offenders and ex-offenders back on track.

“Also, I believe that if this person has a skill set that you need, to give them a chance to show you that they’ve changed their lives because when do they stop paying for what they’ve done,” she says.

PACE has the philosophy that we all win if those coming out of the criminal justice system can rejoin the community in a meaningful way. So the group helps ex-offenders get training first.

“And so now we’re saying OK, we’ve trained them, here they are, please give them a chance, and I think that’s what you can see is happening today,” says Majors.

And Scott Caton, who has seen the system from both sides, asks us to understand.

“Give them the opportunity, not a chance. An opportunity to prove themselves,” he says.

Majors says one of the biggest obstacles is getting those who have served their time to actually apply for a job. She says many have no idea how to begin the process or are afraid they’ll be rejected immediately. But she says, PACE does background checks on all of those they work with, so an employer knows their past and their skills.

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