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Tennessee: Felony Friendly Job Fairs an Unexpected Hit

When Tennessee state Representative Brenda Gilmore and other event organizers planned a Felony Friendly Job Fair in North Nashville on April 23, 2011, they expected a turnout of about 100 former prisoners looking for work. They grossly underestimated the interest among Nashville’s population of ex-offenders.

“We have probably seen about 1,500 people already and there are probably an equal number still out there,” Gilmore said around 11:30 a.m., an hour-and-a-half after the event started. “We had a line of 100 at 8:30 a.m.”

It took about three months to plan and organize the job fair. Five employers, Veterans Administration officials, attorneys and counselors interviewed prospective employees and provided them with information on how to dress for success, succeed in an interview, have their voting rights restored, get criminal records expunged and earn a GED. Potential job candidates were told to put on their best clothes and prepare to be interviewed onsite.

“This is sending a message to the city that this is a service that’s badly needed,” said Rep. Gilmore. “There are people here today that were convicted some 20 or 30 years ago and still have trouble finding a job because they have a felony hanging over their heads. We need to help these people become better citizens because we’re really helping ourselves. We want them to work so we’re not taking care of them through taxpayer [funded] programs.”

A similar job fair for ex-felons, organized by state Representative Karen Camper, was held in Memphis, Tennessee on September 17, 2011. That event attracted about 3,000 former offenders looking for work.

Unemployment rates for ex-prisoners are significantly higher than for people without criminal records.

Sources:,,, Nashville Scene

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