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City of Tampa expands job opportunities for people with a criminal record

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Posted at 6:29 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-01 05:33:58-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The City of Tampa is taking a new approach to bringing down crime. A new ordinance will incentivize businesses that hire people with a criminal background.

Tampa Councilmember Luis Viera led the charge for more options for people with a criminal record.

"Everybody can get behind somebody who wants to work hard to put food on the table for their families," Viera said.

The city is prioritizing businesses that won't shy away from potential employees.

"We take individuals and businesses that contract with the city of Tampa and say that if they hire returning citizens, and if they ban the box, then we're gonna give them extra points in the process. So they get incentives to hire returning citizens," said Viera.

The City of Tampa "banned the box" in 2013, and opted to hire people based on skillset, not their history.

The U.S. Department of Justice found more than 650,000 inmates are released yearly, but two-thirds will likely be arrested again within three years.

"That's a failure that puts our families at risk that breaks families, that puts communities at risk that results in higher crime, and it's a threat to public safety. We need to do a better job on this issue, as a city, as a state, and as a country," said Viera.

The city is also working alongside Hillsborough County and community organizations to put $150,000 toward an apprenticeship program to promote job readiness.

"We're creating an apprenticeship program... to give returning citizens under a test pilot program the skills that they need to be able to improve their lives. The crux of this program is that if you want to work hard to put food on the table for your family, we should meet you halfway there because work is a positive social value," he added.

Abe Brown Ministries is playing a key role in that program.

"I always say that if Jesus Christ was on earth, he'd be at Abe Brown Ministries," said Viera.

President and CEO Robert Blount said programs like this had been the basis of the organization for decades.

"Our founder, the late great Reverend Abraham Brown, used to say, 'We take people who have made some bad decisions, right? We put them in a place where they essentially make no decisions, and then we send them home and expect them to make good decisions. That formula just doesn't work'," Blount said.

Abe Brown Ministries focuses on prison ministry, but it also provides a helping to people re-entering society. They oversee Hillsborough County's Ready 4 Work program.

"Through that program, we really try to tackle many of those challenges that these individuals face. You know, we can get you a job today, but you're not going to keep that job very long if you don't know where you're going to sleep at night, you don't have transportation, or you're struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues," Blount said.

It's an extensive program that focuses on making sure its participants are ready to take on a job.

"Our clients go through a six-week professional development training course where we are teaching them life management skills. We are teaching them employability skills, how to be professional. The whole idea is to earn your way onto what we call our ready client list because once you're on that ready client list, then we will put you in front of employers whom our business development manager has established relationships with," said Blount.

Abe Ministries launched the program in September 2014. Since its launch, Ready 4 Work has engaged about 5,000 people.

"About one thousand two hundred of them have actually followed through and enrolled, and we've been able to place just about a thousand people in gainful employment opportunities," Blount added.

The new partnership with Tampa will open doors for even more people in need of a second chance.

"What I see is servant leadership right it. This is an opportunity for the city of Tampa to demonstrate leadership by leading by example," said Blount.