WASHINGTON, D. C. - A man who once served jail time has made it his mission to help others get a second chance. He was honored for his efforts recently by the President. Two decades ago, when Daryl Atkinson served 40 months in prison for a first-time, non-violent drug crime, he never imagined he would later be invited to the White House for recognition of his work, helping others with a criminal record get jobs.
Atkinson now works as an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where he helps others find work after they've paid for their crime.
"America is a land of second chances," says Atkinson. "Within our country, America had not been giving second chances to people with criminal records."
Atkinson was recently recognized by the White House as a "Champion of Change." According to the Second Chance Alliance, a group in which he plays an active role, 1.6 million North Carolinians have criminal records. Alliance data indicates someone with a criminal record is 50-percent less likely to receive a call back after filling out a job application.
The "Ban the Box" campaign is one program that got the White House's attention. With the help of the Durham Second Chance Alliance, Atkinson succeeded in getting the city of Durham to remove the box asking about criminal convictions from the city's employment application.
"Since the policy was passed, the hiring rate for the city has increased every year, and these numbers and these increases have occurred without any increases in workplace crime," Atkinson says.
Atkinson notes that 95 percent of the 40,000 people incarcerated in North Carolina will be released after serving their sentences - only to discover that finding a job, voting, obtaining professional licenses for their skills and other rights most people take for granted, can be next to impossible. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice offers assistance to people convicted of crimes, to help them regain those abilities.
(Information from Stephanie Carson, North Carolina News Service)