In line with its recent efforts to advocate the hiring of rehabilitated criminal offenders, the city of Little Rock has created three new mowing and maintenance crews made up solely of participants in its re-entry program.
Since October 2015, 367 city residents have enrolled in the Little Rock program. The city has hired 37 of its re-entry program graduates for positions at various departments, including the Police and Fire departments, the zoo, the Human Resources Department and the Finance Department.
City Manager Bruce Moore said Little Rock, through its re-entry program, “helps former offenders navigate their transition back into society and at the same time reaps benefits of hiring hardworking individuals who are motivated to get their lives back on track.”
“By giving them a second chance, we get the opportunity to grow a more skilled workforce at the city, which is why adding more positions across more departments is so important,” Moore said.
The city is aiming to have at least one re-entry position in each of its departments.
There are three re-entry workers in the Police Department already, and officials have previously said that if the Police Department can find a job for an ex-felon, any department can. The grounds worker hired to work in the department last year got a new job with a private company last month.
This fall, the city created three new mowing crews in the Public Works Department, which include three full-time positions and 12 part-time jobs.
Little Rock gets about 1,500 mowing and ditch maintenance requests through its 311 citizen request and information service each year.
Including the three new crews, there are six to nine crews working daily on mowing and maintaining public rights of way.
“The additional three re-entry crews will help Public Works provide a quicker response to 311 service requests for mowing and right of way maintenance and should increase the frequency which Public Works mows and maintains the right of way,” department Director Jon Honeywell said.
The city’s re-entry program provides employment training opportunities to nonviolent Little Rock citizens with criminal histories. Criminal convictions can range from misdemeanors to felonies, and incarceration is not a requirement.
The “Community Programs [Department] and the city manager are committed to providing employment training opportunities, removing barriers to employment and implementing strategies and partnerships with state agencies, local community organizations, and private-sector employers to address the needs of re-entry participants in the Little Rock community,” said Dana Dossett, the community programs director.
In 2015, almost 17 percent of the 19,860 Arkansans incarcerated in state prisons were released and paroled to Little Rock.
Each year, more than 700,000 people are released from state and federal prison, and another 9 million are cycled through local jails nationwide.
“Statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release, and half are re-incarcerated. High rates of recidivism mean more crime, more victims, and more pressure on an overburdened criminal justice system,” Dossett said.
Employment training is a crucial part of rehabilitation, as well as being able to obtain a good job, experts say.
The city has tried to lead by example in hiring some of its own re-entry program graduates, but it is working to encourage other government agencies and private businesses to play a part also.
The city keeps a list of Central Arkansas employers willing to hire applicants with a criminal background, and provides that to anyone seeking re-entry assistance and those enrolled in the city’s program.
“It is critical for recently released citizens and residents with long-term unemployment to be engaged in productive activities. Temporary subsidized jobs and support services (provided by the contracted providers’ Goodwill Industries of Arkansas and Our House) help build the employability of individuals with little or no recent work history while providing a source of legitimate income,” Dossett said of the city’s program.
Print Headline: Ex-offenders hired for LR’s re-entry crews