Mayor Joe Ganim on Friday was joined by city and state lawmakers, business leaders and local nonprofits to announce a Second Chance Society initiative aimed at providing job opportunities to past offenders. The program includes signed pledges by local businesses to give ex-offenders a fair chance at hiring, city seed money of $50,000 and potential foundation matches to create a pool of funds to encourage businesses to hire ex-offenders with a promise of permanent employment.
The University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport Bluefish, Webster Bank Arena and local construction companies are among those who will participate, according to city officials.
In 2015 Ganim made a historic comeback to public office following his 2003 conviction on federal corruption charges. Ganim connected with many voters on a second-chance message, including past offenders who volunteered for his campaign and voted for him over incumbent Bill Finch in a Democratic primary on his way to a general election win.
Ganim is expected to hire a staffer to oversee the Second Chance Society program.
The state of Connecticut has a new law that requires application focus on qualifications for the job before questions can be asked about background. See attached video above and additional info below from city Communications Director Av Harris.
Mayor Joe Ganim today joined Bridgeport area businesses and nonprofits to launch the first steps of a major 2nd chance society initiative whose goal ultimately is to encourage and incentivize the private sector hiring of ex-offenders who may have a criminal record from their past. At least a dozen Bridgeport area businesses gathered with Mayor Ganim, state lawmakers and Bridgeport City Councilors to sign a “Fair Chance Pledge” to give individuals re-entering society from incarceration a fair chance at being hired. Specifically, Mayor Ganim is proposing a $50,000 budget transfer in the form of a challenge grant to the private sector to leverage the investment with foundational support and funds from federal and state government. The goal is to fund an initiative that would connect employers with qualified and prepared individuals who may have a felony conviction in their background, and support the hiring of these individuals.
“Bridgeport is a 2nd chance city–nobody knows that better than me,” said Mayor Joe Ganim. “We estimate that there are 1100 people every year who come back to Bridgeport from being incarcerated who are looking for opportunities to get back into society. It’s no secret that I am one of those individuals. It’s great to have opportunities, but what people really want is an opportunity for a job, make a living and support their families. And in order to do that, you need partnerships with business. I’ve asked the city council to support a budget transfer of $50,000 in the form of a challenge grant that we’ll use in partnership with the nonprofit community and our private sector partners to leverage millions of dollars in grants to put in place a comprehensive 2nd chance program in Bridgeport. Our goal is to reduce employment barriers for ex-offenders who are willing to step up to the challenge and who are ready to work, who only need a fair chance at a job. We know that nationally feelings are changing on this issue, but we have an obligation on the local level now to step up and take the lead.”
The pool of funds created by the city’s challenge grant investment with support from the private sector, state and federal governments, and foundations is designed to mitigate the risk private sector employers may perceive hiring an ex offender. The funds would be used to provide training and preparation for the ex-offender to be ‘job-ready’ and potentially fund the first three months of that individual’s pay. Essentially, the employer would get a qualified individual to work for them at no cost for a trial period of 90 days. Then if the business wants to hire that person, they can do so with working knowledge of that individual in a professional capacity. This encourages businesses to hire ex-offenders, and it is way local businesses can find qualified, productive employees who need a fair chance at a job and often face rejection.
Mayor Ganim, who was himself incarcerated for seven years on federal felony convictions, also reflected on the challenges facing those returning to their community from prison.
“I found that after being away–locked up–coming back, with all the benefits that I have of a strong, huge family that is not exactly poor–of a professional career, knowledge and education. That even for me the challenges–although maybe more subtle than others had faced–were there nonetheless,” said Mayor Ganim. “I had opportunities from close friends and family. I had individual businessmen that stepped up and overlooked what might have been the worst of thoughts and said ‘Hey, Joe–you want an opportunity?’ I also had the flip side of that. I had rejection on my attempt to enter back into my educated career as a lawyer. I went through a long process and was told sorry, but your answer is no. It was a difficult dilemma because working in the legal system my whole life prior to being mayor I had been taught that while there was an element of punishment and deterrence with incarceration, there was also supposed to be an element of rehabilitation and redemption in the system. It is our job to break down the stigma and barriers for those of us in the ex-offender population however we can. It is good for business and ultimately it helps our community.”
Mayor Ganim’s 2nd Chance Society initiative is receiving broad, bipartisan support as State Senators Marilyn Moore (D-Bridgeport), Ed Gomes (D-Bridgeport), and Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield), attended the news conference announcing the plan as well as State Representatives Charlie Stallworth (D-Bridgeport) and John Shaban (R-Fairfield). Bridgeport City Councilors Denese Taylor-Moe, Mary McBride Lee, Alfredo Castillo and Eneida Martinez were also in attendance. Councilwoman Martinez is also proposing a “ban the box” ordinance for contractors seeking to do business with the city that would remove the question of whether or not the individual vendor was convicted of a felony as part of the application to get a contract with the city.
Nonprofit organizations working with the city of Bridgeport and Mayor Ganim’s office to apply for more than $8,000,000 in federal grants to assist with re-entry include The Workplace and Career Resources. These organizations and the city are also working together with an umbrella organization called the Bridgeport Re-Entry Collaborative consisting of dozens of community and faith-based social service organizations who help the formerly incarcerated.