TAMPA, Fla. — Under the mindset that everyone deserves a second chance, the City of Tampa is moving forward with a multi-pronged effort to help the “returning citizens” who are re-entering society after serving time in prison.
Councilman Luis Viera made multiple motions during a meeting last Thursday that would help those people find and sustain employment.
“That person leaving prison who doesn’t feel there’s a way back, they’re going to go back to the drugs, they’re going to go back to the armed robbery, they’re going to go back to those terrible habits that they had before,” said Viera.
At Viera's request, the city is drafting an ordinance that would encourage the vendors and contractors it works with to “ban the box,” or in other words, remove from their job applications any question about an applicant’s criminal history.
The city already uses such a policy on applications for its positions.
During the meeting, several council members voiced support for such a goal.
“What is the point of somebody given a prison sentence for however long it may be. They get out of prison, and they’re continuously punished. It’s like a perpetual slavery where they can’t get a hand up — not a handout — a hand up to rejoin society and be productive,” said Council Chair Guido Maniscalco.
Viera is also pushing the city to partner with Hillsborough County and commit $150,000 in funding to help launch an apprenticeship program to help train the returning citizens.
Viera and others say the changes might help reduce crime and strengthen the economy too. During the meeting, the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce showed up to support the endeavor.
“This is an opportunity for us to allow businesses to do well and to do some good at the same time,” said Nicholas Glover, Vice President of Advocacy with the Chamber.
The “ban the box” ordinance should be drafted and ready for a council vote in mid-July.
According to Abe Brown Ministries, which has partnered with Viera and the others on the initiative, returning citizens face an unemployment rate of more than 27%.