Western MA group rallies for "jobs not jail" - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Western MA group rallies for "jobs not jail"

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A campaign focused on putting state money into jobs instead of jail cells rallied in Springfield Tuesday looking to spread awareness.

The campaign aims to end mandatory minimum drug sentences and wants to restore educational programs in jails.

Incarceration rates are high in Massachusetts and the "jobs not jails" campaign is looking to lower that and put more people to work.

The state is looking to put $2.1 billion into 10,000 new prison cells. The "jobs not jails" campaign wants to see that money put elsewhere.

"We want to that money to go into low income communities, communities of color who have been hit hard by this incarceration nation and we want to start giving people an opportunity to turn their lives around after incarceration," said Donnell Wright, a "jobs not jail" community organizer.

Wright was arrested and convicted of a drug offense 10 years ago and is still unemployed even though he has a bachelor's degree from Boston University.

"When I apply for a job, I initially get the job. But then they do a background check and see I have a drug conviction and then they show me the door," Wright said. 

Rocky Thompson of Carpenters Local 108 says the union would hire Wright and others formerly incarcerated as long as they qualify for the work.

"They've turned their lives around and they need to be given a shot, whether it's in a vocational trade, whether it's in a business setting, whatever it is," Thompson said. 

Thompson wants to hire anyone willing to work hard, but doesn't want them building jails.

"You know we want to build schools and other institutions that benefit society. We can do that with people who have been formally incarcerated," Thompson said. 

Wright says to think twice before turning away another former convict.

"Check people's references. Check people's backgrounds, not just look into their criminal history and see what they've done wrong. Look and see what they've done right," Wright said. 

The "jobs not jails" campaign is hoping to get 10,000 people to rally with them at their next event in Boston on April 26 in the Common.

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