Arming ex-offenders with job skills

June 1, 2009 (CHICAGO) Now there's a push to create more jobs to give felons a legitimate alternative in the real world.

Thirty five thousand felons were released from prison in Illinois last year. Recently, felons trying to turn their lives around got an unlikely supporter: U.S Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

"If it takes a little shock coming from an unexpected source, then we want to have that shock," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald urges action from the business community. He says employing ex-offenders zaps the strength of gangs and will reduce violence.

"When people are given a chance to do something different they take it and are less likely to re-offend. This is not a wish. This is something we've seen," said Fitzgerald.

For ex-offenders, finding a job when they get out of prison is the most pressing problem. According to researchers, society's stigma and legal restrictions about hiring felons are huge obstacles to finding employment.

For most of his adult life, Chris Marshall was in and out of trouble for dealing drugs. After his third trip to prison, he was ready for change. His pastor found him a computer training program and PC Rebuilders and Recyclers gave him an chance - an internship. That was three years ago. Marshall is now the operations manager.

"I no longer had to resort to the streets for income and that was wonderful. My family is proud of me. Actually I'm proud of myself now," said Marshall.

Among Marshall's many duties, he trains other ex-offenders.

"Makes me feel good to know that I'm giving something back," said Marshall.

Willie Cade owns PC Rebuilders and Recyclers. He began hiring ex-offenders because he says it was smart business.

"I can get quality people at less cost than the market. Also, these guys stay around. They work hard," said Cade.

At Cafe Too in the Uptown neighborhood, customers may not realize the trendy restaurant is a part of culinary training program for ex-offenders.

Inspiration Corporation trains the ex-offenders on proper restaurant techniques, then has participants experience a real work environment in the back of the restaurant. Seventy-five percent of graduates find jobs after this training.

"Just like having a roof over your head is stabilizing so is having a job," said Tony Reinert.

Tony Reinert feared he would not be able to return to a computer networking job with his record. He was convicted of burglary after years of struggling with the law and addiction. But Reinert found Inspiration's program.

Reinert was hired full time in 2005. He's the lead server in the front of the cafe and he's going back to school.

"I've proven not only to myself but also to the people at Inspiration Cafe Too that I'm not my past," said Reinert.

Project Safe neighborhoods works with several anti-violence organizations including law enforcement and prevention.

Project Safe Neighborhoods:

Re-entry programs:

More resources for prevention and re-entry:

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