Advocates want fair hiring and housing for ex-offenders

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Each month around 250 inmates get released from prison and end up in Travis County. That number will triple for the month of November when Federal prisons release some drug-offenders early.

“I really do believe in second chances for people that want it,” said Isa Arizola.

Seven years ago, she sold drugs and committed a burglary. She’s a college student now, but still can’t find a steady job with her criminal history. “We served our time and now we are trying to be up-standing citizens in our community, and we are held back, based on our past,” said Arizola.

She came to city hall with a dozen other activists to say the city’s fair hiring ordinance for ex-felons doesn’t go far enough.  They want the council to vote for more support at a November 9th committee. City council members approved “banning the box” – which would ban the part of the application where a candidate would check if they have a criminal history.

Advocates say the city ordinance in question doesn’t have the enforcement to back it up. They feel the city needs to offer more support and civil rights for ex-offenders.

They say jobs are half the problem. The other is fair housing.

After a life of crime, David Peña founded Reach Out Ministries, a christian-based non-profit for transitional homes. He says three out of four clients succeed in his faith-based program. “They’re working full time. They haven’t re-offended. They’re not using and they’re going into stable housing when they leave us,” said Peña. He says having mentors and job placement options keeps ex-offenders off the streets. “They’re being released into the community anyway regardless of whether they get help or not. They could be your neighbors anyway,” said Peña.

Experts point to the statistics. Without a job and a home, these ex-felons are likely to commit more crimes and be right back where they started. Advocates say giving ex-felons more civil rights would improve the situation with, of course, more funding and more volunteers.

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