Task force addresses challenges of former inmates entering workforce

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Encouraging employers to hire people with criminal backgrounds will be the focus of a Greenville Chamber event Tuesday, May 19.

South Carolina State Department of Corrections data shows one in every 10 inmates released from fiscal year 2010 to 2014 returned to Greenville County, or 5,646 residents. Spartanburg County has similar numbers with 5,061 during the same period.

In a letter, Greenville Chamber President and CEO Ben Haskew and Greenville Re-entry Task Force chairman Jerry Blassingame shared reasons why local employers should consider attending the breakfast meeting at the Greenville Commerce Club.

“One of the biggest factors in a person’s success on probation, parole or some other form of community supervision is a job,” the letter stated. “The economic implications to the Upstate are significant when ex-offenders are not able to earn income.”

Blassingame, 48, CEO of the nonprofit community development corporation SOTERIA, knows firsthand the challenges of former inmates looking for work. He was one of them.

He was sentenced at age 27 to serve 20 years in prison for selling drugs. However, Blassingame was released on parole early in 1999 after serving 3 ½ years.

“For 16 years, I’ve been fighting to show I’m not a criminal,” he said. “I’m someone who made a bad decision.”

He started the nonprofit organization to help recently released inmates transition from prison life to becoming productive citizens. Along with housing assistance, SOTERIA provides assistance with financial literacy, education, employment opportunities and counseling.

The forum next week will include two panel discussions, one each of leaders with businesses and another with nonprofit organizations. Topics addressed include how assisting former inmates can lead to safer communities, improve local economies and best practices when considering hiring someone with a criminal record.

The event is held in partnership with the Greenville Society for Human Resource Management; Greenville County Workforce Development; the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services and Miracle Hill Ministries.

Nika White, vice president for diversity and inclusion at the Greenville Chamber, said about 80 business leaders and workforce re-entry supporters plan to attend the breakfast.

“The focus for this forum is to invite employers to think more intently about re-entry efforts and how they can help,” White said.

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