By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

From construction to customer service, employers in need of employees gathered recently at the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge to discuss challenges and possibilities for formerly incarcerated men looking for jobs. The luncheon, sponsored by Joseph Homes of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, was the first step in opening the door for communicating needs on both sides of the table.

Joseph Homes provides housing for homeless ex-offenders. One of the requirements for residing in the temporary affordable housing is employment.

“It’s very difficult looking for a job with a criminal record, and the guys struggle with that, whether it’s an application online or a paper application,” said Linda Fjeldsjo, coordinator of Joseph Homes.

She also noted that each application is different regarding criminal history with some asking, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” or “Have you been convicted of a felony in the past seven years?”

“So how do you answer that you were convicted 20 years ago? You don’t want to lie on the application,” noted Fjeldsjo. “At one time it was rare for a company to do a background check. Now it’s rare for somebody not to do a background check.”

LaToya Pierson, recruiting manager for the city of Baton Rouge, said those who apply for a job with the city are able to go through the interview process before a criminal background check is conducted.

“This gives them a chance to go to an interview and present themselves, talk about their skills before they get to the background check,” Pierson said. “This gives them an opportunity to sell themselves first. And if something comes back on the background check it does not automatically bar them from getting the job.”

“The city of Baton Rouge is an employer of second chances,” said Brian Bernard, Director of Human Resources for the city. “The mayor (Sharon Weston Broome) pushes that very hard. We are one of the places that ban the box. We don’t ask questions about criminal background throughout the application process, when someone has been chosen for the job then they get a background check.”

According to Bernard, “the economy is the best it’s been in years” and those “who want to work are working,” so the city has had to search non-traditional places for employees including re-entry programs focused on those released from prison. He also added that seasonal work is on-going throughout the city and that provides another employment opportunity.

“Seasonal work is not an actual civil service position, but it may lead to full-time employment in a civil service job,” Bernard stated.

Another company talked about the success of hiring a former Joseph Homes’ resident, who works hard and loves his job. It was testimony that Fjeldsjo hoped other companies would have a chance to listen to “because some people see hiring formerly incarcerated men as a major risk.”

She also noted the amount of screening and number of policies required for all of the men before they can become residents of Joseph Homes. And, she stated that there are government vouchers and other incentives available for those who hire returning citizens.

“It’s not like we need jobs every week,” said Fjeldsjo. “We just want to build some relationships with employers so one day, if I have some that’s operated heavy equipment at Angola for 15 years, might fit in with a company that’s in need of that skill set.”

If you’d like more information on connecting jobs with Joseph Homes, contact Linda Fjeldsjo at lfjldsjo@ccdiobr.org.