There was a first-of-its-kind job fair last week in Olmsted County.
It was held in the confines of the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center and was aimed specifically at those currently incarcerated.
“Everybody needs a job,” said Teri Dose, senior social worker at the detention center,. “It’s important for their self-esteem. A lot of time, they get in jail, get depressed, get very down. They don’t have the resources they need to get connected. It is nice to have someone come into the jail and hand out resources, face-to-face.”
“If someone comes into the jail and meets with a detainee, they are far more likely to connect with them when they get out,” she said.
More than half of those who were eligible, 44 of 73, attended the fair, according to Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office Program Sgt. Durand Ackman. He said officials got positive feedback from detainees after the fair.
“One, specifically, told me that just seeing the employers in the gym was uplifting to him, to know that they would employ him,” Ackman said.
Larry Howard has served a number of sentences at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center, dating back to 2008. It’s where he earned his GED, and it was like his home from 2008 to 2010, he said. Howard said a lot of things have changed since his first time at the ADC. He attended the job fair on Tuesday and said he talked to most of the employers.
“It was actually breathtaking, awesome,” Howard said of the job fair.
For Rickford Munger, the job fair was not something he'd experienced before while incarcerated.
“I thought it was very good. I’ve never seen anything like that in here before. It was a pretty good turnout,” Munger said. “Hopefully, they can do more things like that.”
Munger said he spoke to about seven or eight employers that day. Searching for jobs when you have a criminal record can be difficult, and Munger said his record has definitely hindered his job search in the past.
“I feel more accepted,” he said after speaking with the job fair employers. “There are a couple of jobs I feel very hopeful for.”
The employers who attended also had good things to say about the job fair.
“I think there is definitely some individuals there that we are hoping that once they can take care of their legal matters, they can come see us and we can do what we can to put them back to work,” said Brad Trahan, of Express Employment Professionals. “I applaud Olmsted County Sheriff's Office and their staff for putting this on. Many individuals perhaps in that jail are good people who made bad decisions, people needing a break in life.”
About a dozen employers attended the job fair and represented a wide breadth of the workforce, from construction to food service.
“Any time that we can try and take individuals and put them to work — so they are taxpaying citizens — and improve their professional skill set, we are all in for that,” Trahan said.
The idea for the job fair came out of a Previously Incarcerated Individuals Task Force meeting. Dose said the task force was looking at projects to help connect incarcerated individuals with employment.
Dose said she thought making the calls to potential employers would be a hard sell. But it turned out, “they were surprisingly interested.”
While those who attended the job fair weren’t likely leaving with a job offer, Dose said that someone is 10 times more likely to follow through if they have a person they can contact rather than a piece of paper with the name of a business. For the detainees, they have made a connection with a potential employer they know is open to hiring someone who might have a criminal record.
“All these people are members of our community and so it is in our best interest to try and help them when they get out,” ADC Operations Capt. Macey Tesmer said.
The average length of stay at the ADC is about 17 days.
“In that time you lose your job, but you also sober up. So these folks are walking out of here clean and sober,” Tesmer said. "If we can give them some resources, that they can reach out to right away when they get out. That just benefits all of us because then they become productive members of our community again.”
For, Mark Schultz, a regional analyst with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, job fairs, especially for those who have been incarcerated or have a criminal background, are a good thing. Job fairs in general, he said, give an individual an opportunity to get a face-to-face interaction and tell a potential employer about the work they have done before the employer knows about the person’s criminal background.
“Job fairs that are specifically for this population, the employers already know they have a criminal background. Yet, they are still willing to give people a chance,” Schultz said. “These types of job fairs are a great thing to have. It opens up the opportunity structure.”
Dose said they hope to do more job fairs in the future and also do some resource fairs to connect people with services, such as housing.
Watching the men and women interact with those potential employers was also an uplifting moment for the ADC staff.
“For us as staff to be able to watch the interactions and have those conversations with the detainees and see how enlightened they are and how excited they are about these folks coming in and talking to them isn't something we always get to experience,” Tesmer said. “We get to see the good when we do bigger stuff like this.”