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Christie on jobs for ex-cons — ‘We all want 2nd chances unless it’s for someone else’

David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ
David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

TRENTON — Business and government leaders gathered on Wednesday for what was billed as an Employment Opportunity Summit for ex-offenders.

The event, organized by Gov. Chris Christie’s office, focused on the importance and advantages of giving a second chance to those coming out of prison.

Christie implored company leaders to consider not turning away ex-cons from jobs.

“We have to play a role in making this happen. It’s not going to happen on its own,” he said.

Christie also said it’s important for business leaders in New Jersey “to think about how good this will be not only for the benefit of society, but for them, for their business and for them personally.”

He stressed violent sociopaths will be kept behind bars, but the majority of ex-inmates were locked up and remained nonviolent offenders.

“For those folks, we need to provide an opportunity for them to reclaim their lives. We all want second chances unless it’s for somebody else, so we’ve got to open it up beyond that,” he said.

A featured speaker at the Summit was Mark Holden, General Counsel for Koch Industries, a company renowned for offering previously incarcerated individuals a second-chance work opportunity.

David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ
David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

“People make mistakes, they go to prison and when they come out there’s so many exclusions and prohibitions about their being able to get jobs, licenses and that type of thing, it really limits their ability to fully participate in American life, and that ends up hurting all of us because it’s really expensive to put people back in prison,” Holden said.

Holden pointed out lawbreakers tend to get more dangerous and violent over time, “and so we create more issues than we fix when we exclude people from coming back and being able to get jobs, drivers licenses, occupational licenses and that type of thing.”

He said statistics show if someone coming out of prison can get a job, they’re less likely to commit more crimes.

"A job is a lifeline when you’re coming out of prison."

Holden also stressed ex-offenders are usually among the best employees his company ever hires.

“It’s because they need a job. A job is a lifeline when you’re coming out of prison,” he said.

He also said it’s very important to not put labels on prospective employees.

“We’ve hired people with criminal records who are among our hungriest, humble, best employees, and we’ve hired people who have gone to the best schools have the best credentials, no criminal record, and they’re terrible employees, so we want to get to know the whole person and find out what they’re all about.”

He also noted in this country 1 in 3 adults have a criminal record, so if they’re excluded for consideration for employment it’s unfair and short-sighted.

“The message is we, all together, have a stake in this and we want to get rid of barriers, and if we can do that it’ll help all of us,” he said.

Another participant in the Summit was former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who now serves as the chairman of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation and advocates for prisoner re-entry programs.

David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ
David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

“We need to change the perspective of the business community towards re-hiring persons that have been through the criminal justice system,” he said.

"For many of our clients, they have the scarlet ‘F for felony’ on their chest."

“If people don’t have a job, employment as a means of sustaining their own income, ultimately it all falls apart. So employment is a critical factor.”

McGreevey noted the New Jersey Reentry Corporation has 1,200 clients and “we have about a 62 percent employment rate. But for more people to be able to find work, we need to have a change of perspective.”

“For many of our clients, they have the scarlet ‘F for felony’ on their chest, and so they’re unable to get a job. Hopefully this will begin a change of perspective and the willingness to hire our clients.”

The former Democratic governor stressed it’s critically important to expand employment opportunities for those coming out of the prison system.

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“If you can’t get a job you wind up going back to running and gunning and doping, and that’s the reality. We need the large retail corporations in New Jersey to say I’m willing to give somebody a break,” said McGreevey.

Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said we need to have an expanded discussion about “how some low-level offenders may have had some tough breaks in their life, but they may have a skill-set we need to get back into the workforce.”

“The discussion is louder than it’s been years ago,” she said. “We know this is a population that needs a second chance.”

She said for many companies, if an ex-convict applies for a job “the first perception is this is a trouble maker. Why would I possibly take this on? But if you step back you realize this person has probably been through a lot of rehabilitation, and had a lot of support services around them. I would ask people to be open-minded. “

The summit was held in coordination with Koch Industries, the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, Choose New Jersey, NJBIA, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Restaurant Association, and the New Jersey Gasoline Convenience & Automotive Association.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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