VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - A new organization, called The South Georgia Coalition for Employment, is working to help ex-offenders find jobs.
"We're trying to reduce recidivism rates for inmates going back to prison and to help these folks find a job," explained Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress.
The group is made up of 13 organizations, with representatives from the city of Valdosta, the Department of Labor, and Valdosta State University Business College.
"We want to help these folks find jobs and hopefully they won't recommit," said Chief Childress.
They plan to help people like Darrell Carter. He works for the city as a heavy equipment operator, but it wasn't a job he found easily.
"Once you become an offender it's hard to get people to give you a second chance," Carter said.
A felony charge for possession of drugs landed him in prison a lot longer than his six month sentence.
"They seen my record and straight in the trash the application went and I know it," explained Carter.
After months of searching for a job, the city decided to give him a shot. Now, he comes highly recommended.
"He's a very energetic employee, he's glad to come to work, and he's already been promoted in the year that he's been with the city. So we consider him to be a real success story," said Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson.
While Carter represents one success story, his struggle to find a job after being released is one many ex-offenders can relate to.
According to the Georgia Center for Opportunity, 2.6 million people in Georgia have a criminal record on file. That means 1 in 4 Georgians likely face barriers when trying to gain employment.
"We've got to stop looking at these folks as damaged goods. [If] they're damaged goods and nobody wants to touch them, then why are we reforming these folks?" asked Chief Childress.
The state took the first step towards lowering recidivism rates by helping ex-offenders gain employment when Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order to "ban the box" in February of 2015.
This removed the box on applications that asked for an applicants criminal history. However, their record becomes available once they get through to an interview.
That's where the coalition is trying to step in.
"We're asking business owners, 'Hey, if we'll vouch for them, will you?' and give these folks an opportunity to get a job," explained Chief Childress.
Each organization in the coalition has a different specialization. Some organizations help with job preparation, some help with finding job opportunities, and some offer jobs themselves.
"Our city has always tried to be one that gives people second chances and looks at someone's entire work and life history and not an isolated incident," said Hanson.
All with the hopes of placing ex-offenders from their sentence to the workforce.
"If we can find them a job or help them find a job, their chances of going back to prison go down dramatically," Childress said.
To kick off their initiative, The South Georgia Coalition for Employment will hold their first career fair on April 21, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00p.m. at the Lowndes County Civic Center.
It will be open to everyone, not just ex-offenders. However, organizers hope to help provide ex-offenders with any resources needed.
Coalition members will be on-site to help applicants during the job fair.
Businesses that would like to attend the job fair should contact the City of Valdosta Human Resource Department at 229-259-3544.
Applicants that would like assistance preparing for the job fair can contact the Georgia Department of Labor at 229-333-5211.