Nonprofit pushes for fair chance hiring

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Donald Jackson is pursuing his dream of becoming an artist.

He's in his second year at Guilford Technical Community College studying graphic design.

"Hopefully that will pan out for me," Jackson said.

It's a fresh start for Jackson who is starting over after spending three years in prison for drug trafficking.

"This was my first offense,” he said. “First and only offense I've ever been arrested for and went straight to prison."

He says it's a mistake he fears will haunt him for the rest of his life, even after he graduates.

"Who knows if I can get a job or not," he said.

It's a reality Terrance, who didn't want to reveal his last name, knows all too well.

"I am gainfully employed,” Terrance said. “But, it was a long road."

He recently got a job as a peer support specialist, but it took him seven years to find work after being convicted of a non-violent felony in 2009.

"It was extremely difficult for me to get a job," he said.

Tessie Castillo with North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is working with lawmakers to get legislation passed to give people with criminal records a better chance at finding a job.

"This would really help give those folks who made a mistake maybe once or twice in their lives, get back on track," said Castillo, the advocacy and communications coordinator for NCHRC.

The nonprofit is trying to get fair chance hiring policies adopted throughout the state for public employees.

The policies would delay questions about an applicant’s criminal history, until after a first interview.

Employers would still be able to do background checks.

"If we don't give them a second chance, it's hard to imagine how they could stay away from committing other crimes," she said.

Jackson says the legislation would give him and others a real shot at a new life.

"Get rid of the box and just go on my merits," Jackson said.

Eight cities in North Carolina have some version of fair chance hiring policies in place including Fayetteville, Charlotte and Durham.

Castillo says the nonprofit will introduce the bill in January during the legislative session.