Kalamazoo Vice-Mayor Don Cooney says there is reason to be concerned about hiring or providing housing to someone with a criminal record. But he says “if we don’t give people a chance, what are their options, except to go back?”
A forum is being held Thursday night on helping ex-offenders have “A Successful Return Home.” It begins at 7:00 in Kalamazoo City Commission Chambers. It’s sponsored by Kalamazoo Valley Community College and the city of Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo Valley Community College Counselor Jessica Amey and Cooney, who is also a Professor of Social Work at Western Michigan University, joined WMUK’s Gordon Evans.
Amey says the forum is designed to create awareness about the problems facing ex-offenders. She says some former inmates and their families will attend. There will also be a panel people from various fields to discuss the services that people with a criminal past can use to get their life on track.
Cooney says ex-offenders have a tough time finding employment and housing. He says that also affects their families. He says there are hundreds, if not a thousand, people returning to the Kalamazoo area community every year after incarceration. Cooney says there are resources available to former inmates to help them re-establish themselves after jail or prison.
When former inmates can find employment and a place to live, Cooney says they are less likely to go back to jail. Amey says someone who has been convicted of a crime deserves the chance to explain what happened and tell their story.
Western Michigan University President John Dunn, in a separate interview for WestSouthwest, mentioned the potential for a new program to help young, non-violent, first time offenders. Dunn says that’s in the early stages. Cooney says the university could be a “wonderful” resource for people who want to do the right thing, and are looking a chance to be contributing citizens.
Amey says there are more barriers for violent offenders, but she says there are ways to navigate those situations. Cooney says there are many restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live. He says the community has to be protected. But Cooney says
“We can’t though, just reject people for what they have done in the past and say ‘you’re done forever.’”