The Hartford Foundation was pleased to sponsor the 6th Annual Greater Hartford Reentry Employment and Resource Fair at the Hartford Marriott Downtown earlier this morning. The event was hosted by the Greater Hartford Reentry Council, in partnership with the Chrysalis Center. It featured representatives from over 20 Greater Hartford Employers, as well as more than 30 community organizations and state agency programs that provide support for people who are returning to the community after a criminal conviction.
Every year in Connecticut, more than 10,000 individuals are released back into the community from one of our correctional institutions. Thousands of others are convicted of criminal offenses in our courts.
One of the most critical things for returning citizens is gainful employment. When reentering citizens get jobs, they are far more likely to reintegrate successfully and live independently without re-offending. They become productive members of our communities. When returning citizens are unable to find employment and live stable lives, recidivism rates increase, creating a social and financial liability on our cities, towns, and state.
In most cases, these individuals are released having undergone treatment, therapy, counseling, and having served their time. Most of the returning individuals who registered for our reentry fair also receive ongoing support from local nonprofit agencies to ensure that they are job-ready. This population has been studied and proven to be extremely loyal, dedicated, and motivated when working in their new jobs.
The exhibition portion of this morning's event was preceded by a Breakfast Symposium, entitled "Access to employment opportunities for Returning Citizens". Moderated by Connecticut State Representative Brandon McGee (D-Hartford), a panel of guest speakers discussed the pros and cons of adding this often excluded population to their workforce. Panelists for the event included Mayor Luke Bronin, John Santa of the Malta Justice Initiative, Sue Gunderman co-chair of the Greater Hartford Reentry Council, Cheryl McDonald of Bears Smokehouse Barbecue, Louis Lista of the Pond House Café and Zest 280, and Daryl McGraw, Director Office of Recovery Community Affairs for the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
McDonald and Lista shared their personal success stories with employing returned citizens. McGraw offered his own inspiring story of how he spent years in and out of the prison system but was able to take advantage of the services and support to beat his addictions, eventually earning his bachelor's and master's degrees, and working with others who face similar challenges. The speakers offered employers attending the breakfast a message of inspiration, that taking a chance on just one returned citizen can make a huge positive difference for both the employee as well as the business.
The Reentry Employment and Resource Fair received additional support from Community Solutions, Inc., UMASS Graduate Student Senate and Advocacy Unlimited.