BUFFALO, N.Y. - There's a new push to get people with criminal backgrounds needed jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. As a condition of their parole, former convicts need to find work.
The national unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. Here in New York, it's a point higher at 8.9 percent. In our region, it's a bit lower, at 8.4 percent.
The Erie County Center for Employment Opportunities, a local non-profit, says too many people are walking through their doors unemployed and with a criminal record. The organization says 66 percent of former convicts here are unemployed.
"If an individual can't make a taco or stock a shelf, then, what can they do?" asked Jeffrey Conrad, the CEO of the organization, "Those are the jobs that this population can not only maintain, but they can do that pretty well."
The center is targeting the Walden Galleria this holiday shopping season to fill positions with former convicts. The mall has hundreds of seasonal jobs available.
Conrad says at least 10 employers are allowing people with criminal backgrounds to work shifts at the mall.
But, there's a problem.
The center says many can't get to the mall to work late or early morning shifts because of a lack of public transportation. So the center wants NFTA to expand its bus hours in the area.
"Until there is an actual demand, we're not in the position to get buses on the street that are going to run empty with the hope that someone may ride those buses," said Doug Hartmayer, the director of public affairs for the NFTA.
Conrad says he disagrees with this "assertion," citing that the NFTA has reported an overall increase in ridership.
"I've actually had to deny two people because the bus system that they had doesn't drive out here later," said Andrew Jezior, a manager at Bar Louie, which is a restaurant at the Galleria.
The center is trying to place people like 23-year-old Terrance, who's trying to repair his life. He served five years in prison for robbing a teacher. He's on probation and unemployed.
"I must rely on the metro and things associated, family, friends and it's kind of tough out here," he said.
The center says that it doesn't help any convicted sex offenders or arsonists. It says it rarely will help any convicted murderers and that the public is not in danger when former convicts are in public places.
"We have people who have been convicted of crimes working in every industry," said Conrad.
Experts say that recidivism rates for people with criminal backgrounds is reduced when people on parole have jobs. The center gets some funding from the state.
Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, who serves Cheektowaga, told us he can understand how some people might feel uncomfortable about former convicts getting certain jobs, but that in the end, the decision rests with the employers.