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South Jersey employers open doors to recovery court participants

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Luana Cordeiro has survived sexual assaults and abusive relationships, recovered from addictions to alcohol, heroin and other substances, regained custody of her two sons and most recently graduated from the Atlantic and Cape May County Recovery Court program.

Today, Cordeiro, 33, of Galloway Township, is a mother of three working full time at Enlightened Solutions’ detox center in Atlantic City. She considers herself lucky, as jobs for recovery court graduates, who often have criminal records, have been scarce — until now.

Some of South Jersey’s largest employers, such as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, AtlantiCare and Stockton University, are partnering with the court systems to offer employment opportunities for people in recovery.

Atlantic County recovery court Judge Mark Sandson said as the recovery court population grows, communities can play a crucial role by welcoming those in recovery back to the workforce.

There are about 6,445 current recovery court participants and 5,252 graduates statewide, officials said.

“If we can get people into jobs, we can close out the cycle of addiction and prison and complete the full story of recovery,” he said. “A lot of people (court participants) have applied in job fairs and can’t get hired, and now we’ve had tremendous response from these businesses who want to get involved.”

Hard Rock executives and Unite Here Local 54 announced earlier this month they would work with court officials to place qualified people in casino and hospitality jobs. Officials from Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa also confirmed they will partner with the court program.

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State Sens. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, and Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, have proposed legislation that would make program graduates eligible to become pit bosses, gaming floor supervisors, directors of security and other positions. Currently, people with certain drug convictions are ineligible.

Graduates like Cordeiro said they naturally gravitate toward working at recovery-friendly organizations and businesses like Enlightened Solutions, a nonprofit addiction treatment network, because they know they will not be judged for their past drug-related crimes.

“I was arrested, in jail, owed a lot of money to a lot of county courts and had charges for possession,” she said, “so before I got a job at the detox center, I was cleaning houses on the side because someone will always ask about those things and not hire you.”

Sandson said many participants have records for possession, distribution, robbery, burglary and other drug-related offenses he believes people may not have otherwise committed if they weren’t fueling an addiction.

Knowing this, Mary Ann Tait, assistant vice president of human resources at AtlantiCare, said the health care provider wants to play a role in the recovery community by considering qualified recovery court participants, knowing they may have criminal records.

“When something comes up on their legal records, like a conviction, a lot of times that scares employers off from hiring them,” she said. “But the court system holds participants to key milestones and rules, and knowing that, we can work to break that stigma around addicted folks in recovery. We’re not afraid to step into that role, because we know they’ve worked really hard to seek employment.”

In recovery court, participants are required to undergo drug testing several times a month, and employers could be notified if participants fail those tests.

Stockton will partner with the courts not only for job opportunities and university enrollment support, but to evaluate the success rate of recovery court participants who get jobs through this new partnership initiative.

Developer and Hard Rock investing partner Joseph Jingoli, who helped spearhead the partnerships, said that while stigma may have played a role in employment in the past, the tides are changing for the better.

“This is like-minded people getting together to do what we can right here and now, and it’s happening in Atlantic City and Atlantic County,” he said. “What better way to make a statement that we’re coming out from the bottom and reaching out to citizens who need help and want careers.”

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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