Rehabilitating offenders just got even harder

By: Ryan Calhoun Email
By: Ryan Calhoun Email
Fredrick Porter

Due to his record, Fredrick Porter was out of work for two years. He now has a job thanks to the East Central Georgia Offender Work Development Program. (March 23, 2011 / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 11 o'clock -- Wednesday, March 23, 2011

THOMSON, GA. -- It's already hard to find a job right now, but it's even harder for former criminals.

Programs aimed at getting offenders jobs won't have it any easier, especially after an Augusta utility worker with a criminal background was exposed doing criminal activity on the job. Some worry that if ex-criminals don't work in some form, it will have an adverse effect on communities.

For the past two years, Fredrick Porter of Wilkes County didn't have a job.

"It was rough," Porter said. "I mean, I've been filling out applications, but with my past record it's been kind of hard."

But now, even with a prior drug arrest, he's getting a chance to prove he can be a good employee for Citgo.

"It's a blessing," he said. "You can get some bills paid and it also gives you an opportunity to get hired full-time."

Porter's tryout to join the Citgo team was made possible by the East Central Georgia Offender Work Development Program.

"It gives the employer the opportunity to see how he works without investing his own dollars," program specialist, Carrie Edwards said.

But when former criminals are exposed doing criminal activity on the job like an Augusta utility worker was during Operation Fox Hunt, program coordinator Leon Fields begins to worry. He says it only makes it tougher to get an employer to give ex-criminals a chance to prove themselves and later get hired.

"It's an employer's market, and they're demanding everyone have a background check," Fields said.

But what happens if they don't work?

"They may commit crimes because they need to eat or they need to take care of families," Fields said. "So what could've been maintained by getting them back to work now becomes a problem."

That problem could then land offenders back in jail on the taxpayers' dime.

"What we do is try to get offenders back to work to make them taxpayers and to allow them to be productive members of society," Fields said.

Porter says he's working at becoming a productive citizen and a taxpayer who stays out of trouble.

"I'm just trying to do better for myself and my family," he said.

For all of these offenders who come to the regional program, Fields says nothing is handed out to them; they have to sell themselves.

This program is part of the Workforce Investment Act that might get cut by U.S. lawmakers.

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