Defendant-Focused Career Fair Held for National Drug Court Month


May is National Drug Court Month and Columbus, Mississippi was ready to celebrate by getting participants back to work. When Municipal Judge Nicole Clinkscales asked how they might reward or incentivize drug court participants, JCS representative Sameca Gaines suggested a career fair. “Although they are being rehabilitated through treatment, they still have responsibility of family and fines to be taken care of. I thought going a little further than the job board would help,” stated Sameca. So, on the heels of a school-based career fair, members of the Columbus Municipal Court, MUW Career Services, and JCS scrambled to put together a career fair that was focused on defendants.

The event was held in the Cochran Ballroom on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women. It included employers such as Turner Furniture, Aarons Rentals, II-VI Incorporation, Chick-Fil-A, Robinson Lawn Services, East Mississippi Community College, Mississippi University for Women, Christian Talk in the GTA Magazine, Carl Hogan Toyota, Ellis Steel Inc., Coffee House on 5th, and the Greater Learning Center (GED) Program. The majority of attendees focused on technical skills and education.

Originally, the event was only intended for participants in drug court. Sameca advised, “The mission of the Columbus Municipal Drug Court is to reduce the rate of nonviolent drug-related crimes and enhance the quality of life of nonviolent substance abuse offenders and their families by providing court supervision intervention. The participants have three phases to complete consecutively, before graduating out of the program.” The court has enjoyed many successes since its 2008 inception. However, the organizers came to note there was need across the board for people on probation and other forms of supervision. Job-seekers with other kinds of criminal records were just as frustrated with being turned away again and again, despite their changes and efforts. Thus, the fair came to accept defendants in general. All employers would be aware that the applicants had a criminal record or pending criminal record and were currently under supervision. This gave defendants a chance to speak with employers that would be willing to give them a chance.

The group that organized the event including Municipal Drug Court Coordinator, Mr. Dismukes, MUW Career Services Assistant Director Towanda Williams, and JCS employees Sameca Gaines and Terresia Rush worked hard to gather local business leaders to participate and assist the rehabilitation process of these defendants. Luckily, the effort paid off. Surveys conducted on both employers and defendants were overwhelmingly positive and indicated they would return to the next event. “The most rewarding thing about the job fair was to see the defendants show up with resumes in hand, ready to take back their life and responsibility. The hopefulness in their eyes and confidence in their smiles,” added Sameca.