First Step News

Philadelphia Inquirer Reports: Philly courts hosted a job fair for the pretrial population


by: Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Updated: July 23, 2019

It was an unconventional job fair.

There were no splashy banners advertising companies, no branded swag, no suits. Just folks filling out paperwork on the benches of a Philadelphia courtroom Monday — sometimes with a drug test swab in their mouth — waiting for an interview where they’d hear about their options: food service, warehouse work, cleaning. Most would get an offer within a day or two. It was a job fair for people who have been arrested and are on pretrial supervision. As part of the city’s MacArthur Foundation-backed efforts to reduce the jail population, the First Judicial District recently partnered with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health to have social worker Jennifer Fuller help people access mental health counseling, housing support, and education. Employment is another focus for people under supervision, which is why the job fair originated.

“Employment is very much linked to reduced recidivism,” said the First Judicial District’s chief of pretrial services, Michael Bouchard, “and that’s one of the main goals of pretrial supervision: no new arrests.”
Employment could also be a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing, he said.

There are a little more than 1,000 people in Philadelphia on pretrial supervision, which requires those who have been released from jail to check in weekly with pretrial officers, and can last anywhere between a month to over a year, depending on the charges, Bouchard said. Many are found not guilty or their cases are dropped, he said. And yet, people often think they’re unemployable because of their charges.

The job fair was run by First Step Staffing, an agency that serves people experiencing homelessness and those returning from prison. The Atlanta-based agency that opened in Philadelphia in January 2018 said it had 270 temporary jobs available, with pay ranging from minimum wage to $15 an hour. (The higher-paid jobs are forklift operators, material handlers, and pallet jack operators.) It declined to disclose the participating employers.

Many people will have the opportunity to become permanent employees after working a set amount of hours through the staffing agency, said Suzanne Davis, a manager at First Step Staffing. Companies declare their hiring requirements: Some don’t want anyone convicted of a violent crime, for example. Then the agency runs background checks on applicants and pairs them with an employer.

Nearly 50 people attended the job fair, including Kuwan Colston, a 35-year-old who had been out of work for nine months. Colston, who declined to elaborate on the charges he’s facing, said he was starting a job the following day as a cleaner but was interested in getting a second job through the staffing agency. He said he liked working two jobs: One check to pay the bills, another to do whatever you want.

Colston is a father of four. “So, I gotta work,” he said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.