'Jobs not Jail' offers a second chance to first offenders

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A select group of first time felony offenders is getting a chance to find new jobs on Wednesday. It's part of a program called "Jobs Not Jail," which is designed to help young men and women charged with non violent crimes get a second chance at success. 

Darreous Respress isn't letting a bad decision he made in the past ruin his future. The 24 year old credits the "Jobs Not Jail" program with helping him stay on track.

"I just fell into the wrong crowd when I was younger, so now I'm trying to learn from my mistakes and this has been a golden opportunity for me to get back on track," said the metro Atlanta native.

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James told FOX 5 the Jobs for Jail program is designed to help first time felony offenders, like Respress, get a second chance at success.

"We can't talk about changing a person's mindset without changing their conditions and giving them access to employment," said James.

Respress was 19 years old when he was charged with burglary after he and a friend broke into an empty home off Second Avenue in DeKalb County. It was his first felony arrest.

"I had just graduated from high school and I was supposed to be focused on trying to go to college. Then everything went wrong. It was all going right, then it just went left," Respress said.

Determined his first felony would be his last, Respress entered DeKalb's anti-recidivism diversion Court Program in 2014 and graduated a year later. This year, he was admitted into the District Attorney's Jobs not Jail program.

Participants must be 17 to 25 year old, wear ankle monitoring bracelets, submit to random drug tests and maintain a 10 p.m. curfew.

"We're trying to make sure they're being held accountable. If they break the rules, they can be prosecuted and can end up back in jail. If they make it, they get access to employers who are willing to hire them and we'll give them a clean slate and expunge their felony so that their record won't be held against them when they're seeking future employment," the District Attorney said. "We know roughly 40% of the young men and women who've enrolled in this program in the last five years have graduated and that's good because we know that means they are more likely to get a job and keep a job and even less likely to end up back in jail."

Respress has been working in fast food restaurants for a couple of years and just started a new job at Waffle House. He is grateful his second chance at success came along when it did.

"We all have to make the most of our opportunities and learn from our mistakes. That's what I know I'm going to do," the 24 year old said with a smile.

James will be outlining more details of Jobs not Jail Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Decatur.