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May 16, 2014

Jail to Jobs finds work for former felons

NEW CASTLE — Everyone deserves a second chance.

That’s the idea behind a program initiated by Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa to help convicted felons find work.

This year, Lamancusa secured a $50,000 grant from the Hoyt Foundation to kick-start the re-entry program that works with employers and felons to help former offenders improve their lives by placing them in the workforce.

His goal is to place 100 people in jobs within a year, he said. “We will work with any felons except sex offenders.”

Since the Jail to Jobs program started a few months ago, at least three people have been placed in jobs and more are in the process, Lamancusa said.

He has hired Gary Filippone of Mahoningtown as special projects liaison — a non-law enforcement position — to oversee that and two other programs that involve city cleanup and neighborhood watch.

The idea came to Lamancusa during noncompliance hearings, where offenders are ordered to pay costs and restitution, often with no financial resources.

“One guy said he applied to 27 jobs but didn’t get any of them because he was a convicted felon,” Lamancusa said, noting the man had drug offenses from 10 years earlier.

“I doubted his story and asked him to show me the applications and he came up with them. The bottom line is we need to help people get jobs or they will go back to the streets.”

Lamancusa’s office needed funding for the program, so he pitched the idea to the Hoyt Foundation, which agreed to fund it for one year. If the program is a success, the foundation has said it would consider financing it a second year. When the outside funding goes away, so does the job.

Lamancusa said that so far, at least 30 employers in and out of the county have agreed to participate, and there are close to 20 job applicants.

The city of New Castle is hiring at least two applicants as part-time summer help to cut grass on properties as part of a team through code enforcement.

“Council agreed to it,” Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo said, adding he believes Jail to Jobs has potential.

“I’m a little concerned, but the DA’s office has screened the candidates,” Mastrangelo said. “I feel comfortable with that, and I feel council is on board, too.

“You have to give individuals an opportunity to work and it’s a hard time for them to get jobs,” the mayor continued. “I figure if their record’s clean for a period of time, why not? We try to hire 18-year-olds going to school, but this is the first year we’re not. We want to try it out and give them an opportunity.”

Lamancusa noted one woman who entered the program has received three job offers and gets to choose the one she wants.

People interested in applying — or companies interested in hiring them — may contact the special projects liaison at (724) 656-1916. Each applicant must fill out an application and sign a disclosure agreement waiving all of his or her privacy rights.

The district attorney’s office runs background checks, then Filippone tries to match skills to jobs and employers. As with any job, the employers interview the applicants.

“There are good companies out there who are participating,” Lamancusa said.

“The companies are more willing to take these people if they’re in a program like this.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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