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Pittsburgh council advances measure to help recently incarcerated people find jobs

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday advanced legislation that would allow the city to enter an agreement with a nonprofit to provide temporary employment opportunities to recently incarcerated individuals.

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The measure — introduced by Councilman Ricky Burgess last week — would form a partnership with the New-York-based Center for Employee Opportunities.

The program the collaboration would create would provide temporary employment opportunities for people returning from jail.

“Historically, Pittsburgh has over-relied on the three P’s: policing, prosecution and prisons,” Burgess said, explaining that strategy has “failed to yield long-term results” and instead came with an “extremely high social cost” in underprivileged communities.

Burgess said the proposed initiative would provide better support for people coming out of prison to help them successfully reacclimate to society and find employment opportunities.

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“It pays them daily,” he said. “It provides them not just with a job, but it provides them with the soft skills needed to be successful.”

Jacqueline Weinberger, regional director for Center for Employment Opportunities, said the program starts with a paid orientation. After orientation, individuals automatically get placed into transitional work crews. They also get job coaching and career development services to help them connect to full-time employment opportunities.

The temporary work crews are comprised of about five to seven people each, according to the Center for Employment Opportunities. Workers are paid $11 an hour to clean up abandoned property and maintain city-owned sites.

After the nonprofit helps match people with jobs, they continue offering support for an additional year, Weinberger said.

“Anything we can do to help people get back on their feet after prison is a good thing,” Councilman Anthony Coghill said. “Most of the time, that’s what they need — an opportunity.”

Implementing the program is free to the city, Burgess said.

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Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said he appreciated that it works as a violence prevention program urging recently incarcerated people to find work instead of potentially falling into crime, while also providing the city with workers to help maintain their vacant properties.

“It’s a win-win for all,” he said.

Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said she questioned why they needed an independent nonprofit to do this when the city could simply hire recently incarcerated people directly.

“If we really want to give people a chance, let’s just do it,” she said.

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If the city is going to take initiatives to make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to find work, she said, they should also reconsider some of their own hiring practices that make it unnecessarily difficult for some to get a job.

For example, she suggested updating the city’s rules barring people from working after failing a drug test for marijuana since the city decriminalized marijuana and medical marijuana cards give some people legal permission to take it. She also questioned requirements for workers who don’t drive on the job to have licenses.

Council members unanimously approved the measure in a preliminary vote Wednesday. The measure could get final approval this week.

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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