GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The US Attorney touted a renewed effort to end West Michigan gang violence Thursday -- and he wants employers to help decrease gangs' power.
"This is also a call to employers in this community to look for opportunities to hire ex-offenders," said US Attorney Pat Miles at a press conference.
Miles wants local companies to hire ex-convicts -- gang members included -- to get them off the streets and their lives back on track.
Last week, 24 Hour News 8 interviewed a gang member who said he and many others had no other options but gangs because of their criminal records.
"Me myself, I'm a felon," the member of the Tiny Rascal Gang told 24 Hour News 8. "So, if there wasn't that immediate label on a felon, like 'Oh, he's a felon, he's a gang member, he's no good.'"
24 Hour News 8 went to a job fair to find out if that perception is true.
Karen Spaulding recruits workers for Trans-Matic in Holland. She said the family-based manufacturer hires mainly depending on skills.
"There's really a shortage of skilled labor," she said.
On Thursday, she looked for someone with specific skills to make deep-drawn metal stampings.
"Our products are in almost everything that you use everyday," she said.
Spaulding explained the company's application, which asks applicants if they have been convicted of a felony within the last five years. And if yes, the applicant is asked to explain.
"I would tell people with a criminal background to be honest about it, and especially to explain some circumstances around it from the time of the crime to where they are now because a lot of people change in life," Spaulding said.
For Spaulding, a felony is not an automatic deal-breaker, but it depends on the seriousness of the crime.
"If the felony is violent in nature, or if there's thievery or larceny involved, that presents a dilemma," she said.
She suggests convicts should seek out skills to fit manufacturers' needs.
Miles argues turning a convict into a taxpaying citizen would save taxpayer dollars if those offenders do not go back to prison. The Michigan Dashboard shows an average prisoner costs taxpayers $34,423.15 a year.
Miles wants companies to follow the lead of two Grand Rapids companies -- Cascade Engineering and Butterball Farms. The companies are heading an initiative called "30-2-2." The goal is to get 30 companies to hire two recently released inmates each and track their job performance for two years.
There are currently 20 companies in the program, according to one of the initiative's leaders.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.
On Thursday, the medical examiner's office said CMU student Kelly Markatos died as a result of the eating disorder bulimia.