LA County Supervisor wants to give companies incentives to hire ex-cons

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It took a year for Dayvon Williams to find a job after he left jail in 2009 and it wasn't a very good one. He got a data entry gig that paid under the table.

"I had a temporary job, then another, then another," he said.

Filling out application after application, checking "yes" when asked if he'd been convicted of a crime felt useless.

"I always felt like I never had a chance, they were just throwing away my application," he said.

Employers are often reluctant to hire the formerly incarcerated, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis. She's proposing using the county's contracting process to give employers an incentive to hire the formerly incarcerated. 

"The county gives out millions and millions of dollars in opportunities for different types of services," she said, everything from food services to landscaping. Solis said the county could give a leg up to bids from contractors who employ people coming out of jail or prison. 

The Board is expected to vote on studying the proposal Tuesday. Supervisor Don Knabe co-sponsored the motion.

"The county already has preferential treatment for small businesses, those that employ disabled veterans, why can't this also include this specialized population?" Solis asked.

Ideally, groups that target the formerly incarcerated population and provide job training and other supportive services, like Homebody Industries, would participate. But Solis said for-profit employers can also take advantage of the incentives.

"This is big," said Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a group that advocates for those behind bars. 

She said it's part of a trend that moves from punishing people, to giving them a chance. She pointed to California's Proposition 47, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors, and evolving federal immigration policies like deferred action.

"These policies are going to increase the number of people in Los Angeles who are employable," Zuniga said. "So to have companies being encouraged to actually hire the formerly incarcerated, this is a really big step."

Williams eventually found work as an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition, and has traveled around the country, advocating for those who are getting out of prison and jail.

He said he'd support Solis's plan, but hopes the jobs that become available include career-track professions, not just service jobs. 

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