The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce is spearheading an effort to get employers to give people with arrest records a chance.
Representatives from dozens of large and small companies gathered on the steps of the Chamber building Tuesday in support of Project Open Door.
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Chairwoman Audrey Moran said it give hope to applicants with a criminal record during their job search.
“This does not tell companies who to hire,” Moran said. "It simply keeps people and their applications from immediately being discarded because of an arrest which could be for a minor offense many years ago.”
For Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, not dismissing qualified job applicants out of hand because of a past arrest makes a lot of sense from a law-and-order perspective.
“We talk a lot about fighting crime in the community and our model of prevention, intervention and enforcement. And on the intervention side, we define that as intervening in the lives of people when they need it the most,” Williams said. “But sometimes it’s just a matter of giving someone an opportunity. And if you give people an opportunity, you give people hope.”
According to the Chamber of Commerce, a quarter of working-age Americans have an arrest record.
That includes Edward Waters College President and former Jacksonville Sheriff Nathaniel Glover.
Glover said his arrest at age 17 for stealing a couple of cloth napkins from a Morrison’s Cafeteria would have permanently derailed his future in law enforcement if someone hadn’t taken a chance on him.
“Why ruin the rest of a person’s life without consideration of 'what were the circumstances,' 'why you did that' and 'your gut feeling on would this be a good risk for my company.' ”
Glover said if Jacksonville Mayor Lou Ritter hadn’t convinced the Civil Service Administration to let him take take the police officer exam, he would never have been elected Florida’s first African American sheriff since Reconstruction.
By signing on to Project Open Door, businesses agree to take questions about a job seeker’s criminal history off their employment applications.
So far, some 50 Jacksonville businesses have pledged to do just that.
Reporter Cyd Hoskinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6351 or on Twitter at @cydwjctnews