Those with criminal backgrounds seek help in getting jobs

State and county organizations gathered with employers May 29 to give the justice-involved residents of Kitsap a fairer shot in their job searches.

WorkSource Kitsap in Silverdale hosted its first Re-entry/Justice Involved Resource Fair, pooling the resources of agencies invested in re-entry with employers seeking applicants. Booths and documents were made available to job-seekers who have a criminal background or are returning home from incarceration.

“I’m trying to get as many resources as I can to make sure I don’t end up back there,” Mharie Collins said. “Just the fact that it is on my record and can follow me around is very intimidating and stuff like that.”

Matt Hogg added: “I imagine there’s many barriers involved and a lot of doors slammed in their faces. That’s one of the big reasons we are having this event.”

Kathy Money said the struggles justice-involved people have with finding work remain impossible to navigate alone, and many applicants go from job to job just to get by. Above all, it is perception that remains a commanding influence among employers. “People never think that it could just be something light,” Money said. “They’re always going to think the worst, which is hard to break.”

Background checks are the primary hurdle to overcome for a prior convict. While not required for all jobs, they often present what Money called the face value of an offense or mark on their records instead of its true nature. Case in point, not all crimes are equal. “When people do background checks, I don’t think employers are prepared to understand what they’re seeing. The willingness of an employer to listen to what the situation is is crucial,” she said.

Resources like Civil Survival do what they can to help applicants prepare for their job search by resolving past court issues and any unresolved debts, but the obstacles remain aplenty.

Community organizer Cory Walster said, “We hired up to six or seven attorneys now that are able to directly represent people to get their records taken care of, but another problem is some of those third-party background checks that are online.”

Money said she advises prospective employees to keep city and state job positions in mind, knowing they could provide a more permanent solution to what could become a long-term problem. “If you can get in with a state or government agency, you’re probably getting a good job with benefits, and things you are looking for so you can take care of yourself and your family,” she said.