By Jenna Aronson
PHOENIX – Jude Garcia spent three and half years behind bars for armed robbery and aggravated assault. He left prison with the clothes he wore when he was incarcerated, $100 and no job.
“I applied close to 50 jobs after I was released, but no one would hire me because of my criminal background,” said Garcia, 36.
He said for nine months, he worked for a delivery company called Roadies because it didn’t do a background check. But the company started running background checks at the end of February, and he said he lost his job the last week of March.
Garcia is among many ex-prisoners who struggle finding work after serving their time.
A 2015 survey by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights found that 76 percent of former inmates said finding work after being released was difficult or nearly impossible. Nearly two-thirds of the more than 1,000 respondents were unemployed or underemployed five years after being released from prison.
During Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address in January, he said one of his key initiatives included adding employment centers in prisons because employing ex-prisoners goes a long way toward reducing the recidivism rate and creating safer communities.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security has partnered with the Arizona Department of Corrections to fulfill his initiative, and officials plan to launch an employment program inside three state prisons that will have employment specialists from ARIZONA@WORK connecting inmates with background-friendly employers.
After completing a successful pilot program in parole offices in Mesa and Tucson, the departments now plan to add employment centers inside the Tucson, Lewis and Perryville prisons. They do not know when they will begin serving inmates.
Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said when the program begins, they will serve nearly 200 inmates, both male and female, who pose a medium to high risk to recidivate.
At each center, ARIZONA@WORK specialists will provide the inmates assistance with resume building, interviewing, money management, how to dress professionally and how to explain convictions to an employer.
“Employment is a critical component to an offender’s successful reentry, reducing the likelihood they will recidivate,” said Karen Hellman, director for the Division of Inmate Programs and Reentry at the corrections department.