Formerly Incarcerated Struggle to Find Work: Is L.A. County Willing to Help?

formerly incarcerated find work“I tried to assimilate. And I couldn’t:’ Ex-cons struggle to re-enter the workplace. Now L.A. County trying to help

When Lily Gonzalez was released from Valley State Prison in Chowchilla in 2012, all she wanted to do was put incarceration behind her. She hoped to go back to work, continue her education at Cal State Northridge and reconnect with her 11-year-old daughter.

“I tried to assimilate,” she said. “And I couldn’t.”

Gonzalez had been convicted of multiple felonies for falsifying signatures on documents — “something stupid I did when I was 18 years old,” she said. Instead of returning to her old life, including a job with the county’s Department of Consumer Affairs, Gonzalez found herself stuck.

“I applied for jobs everywhere,” she said. “I’d go in for an interview, and they’d be reviewing my resume, and then they’d get to the application and see the box [asking about a criminal record] … and just in their body language you could see they weren’t interested anymore.”

Two motions approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday direct county officials to recommend standards for establishing “fair chance” ordinances in L.A. County.

Los Angeles County may soon join the City of Los Angeles and others around the country in making it easier for people like Gonzalez to find employment. Two motions approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday direct county officials to recommend standards for establishing “fair chance” ordinances in L.A. County.

The ordinances, which would apply to county government, businesses that contract with the county and businesses that operate in unincorporated L.A. County, would do away with restrictions on employment that are based solely on prior criminal records.

This could include such policies as not asking job seekers about criminal convictions until a conditional offer of employment is made, giving them an opportunity to appeal if an offer is rescinded and fining businesses that repeatedly flout the guidelines.

“Once someone has paid his or her debt to society, they ought to be afforded the opportunity to become productive citizens in the context of their respective communities,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during discussion of the motions on Tuesday.

nina agrawalIf adopted, Los Angeles County’s ordinances would follow similar policies that have been put in place elsewhere.

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Nina Agrawal
Los Angeles Times

About Nina Agrawal

Nina Agrawal is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. She previously reported for WLRN-Miami Herald News and for the Latin American affairs magazine Americas Quarterly. A Southern California native, Agrawal is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs.

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