ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — City leaders want to expand a program that provides jobs with the city of Round Rock to teenagers and young adults who’ve spent time in jail.

Jail to Jobs started a decade ago in central Texas, and since then its primarily worked with private companies to provide job training and employment to young ex-offenders.

For the last several months, though, 15 former jail inmates have worked part-time, temporary positions with the city of Round Rock, the first time Jail to Jobs has worked directly with a local government.

“I thought it would be a win-win for both us,” said Valerie Francois, the city’s director of human resources. “We get work done that we need done and we get the youth an opportunity to have experience.”

The jobs range from working in the recycling center to picking up unauthorized signs from the side of the road to small engine maintenance, all under the supervision of full-time city employees.

Eddie Franz, who runs Jail to Jobs in Williamson County, brought the idea to the city because young ex-offenders need a second chance to change the old habits that landed them behind bars in the first place. A job with the city, he said, has a different impact than other job training.

“They see offices and they see people and they get greeted,” Franz said. “There’s a lot of energy and joy around these buildings, and they pick up on that.”

The program has worked so well for the city, Francois said, that they’re looking at how to expand it to bring more former inmates into city departments.

A second chance

Working with the city’s recycling center, even temporarily, has been its own reward for Miguel Cuautle.

He discovered Jail to Jobs when he was arrested for family violence at 17 and was sent to the Travis County jail as an adult. “It wasn’t a happy place,” he said.

A Bible study class introduced him to Franz, and after working in various job training programs, he made the move to the city post.

Miguel Cuautle empties the recycling bin in Valerie Francois’ office on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

“I didn’t ever think I would be in this type of situation,” he said. “You know, helping out the city and just being part of a better community.”

The program has given Cuautle, now 18, a second chance to start something positive for his future. He opened up to Franz and appreciates the sometimes-tough love approach he takes in the program.

“They put themselves in our shoes because they’ve been there as well,” Cuautle said.

Changing the influences

Franz was living in Beaumont when he was arrested in 2005 for distribution of methamphetamine. A few years into this ten-year sentence, he said, he felt something change. He didn’t want to go back to the life that put him behind bars.

For the last three years, he’s run Jail to Jobs’ Williamson County operations to convince offenders between the ages of 12 and 24 to make the same decision.

“The problem was as soon as they got out, even though they wanted to change, they were going back to the same support structure, the same people, and the same influences,” Franz said.

Eddie Franz speaks with KXAN outside the Round Rock city offices on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The more time young ex-inmates spend learning a trade and working for a purpose bigger than themselves, the more the program’s mentors can help change the influences in their lives. “We can give them support, encouragement, direction.”

Jail to Jobs provided Cuautle with exactly what he needed. “I never had anybody saying, like, ‘I’m proud of you’ or anything that,” he said. “It makes you feel accomplished. I feel like I did something useful for myself and for other people.”

Growing the program

Workers in the program logged 481 hours with the city between May and September of this year, Francois told the Round Rock City Council last month. The work saved the city nearly $3,000 over that time, because without the part-time workers, the city would have paid full-time employees to do the tasks, which would include expenses like benefits.

But the savings is not why Francois wants to expand the program.

“If we can have children walk out of here saying, ‘If it wasn’t for the city of Round Rock, I might be in jail,’ that’s a plus for us, and we have made a true impact on their lives.”

She doesn’t know how many participants the city could eventually employ, but the opportunity doesn’t stop when the ex-offenders finish job training. Already, Francois identified one of the original 15 workers that the city wanted to hire full-time.

“He actually was offered a job somewhere else to learn how to become a mechanic,” she explained. “But we do plan to steal him because we think he was a great kid, and that’s the whole goal of this program.”

There are several other departments with special projects for the program’s participants to take on, Francois said, and with events, the city could likely hire many more Jail to Jobs clients.

Now that he’s got proof that it can work, Franz plans to expand his mission to other cities, targeting Georgetown and Cedar Park next. “There’s a lot of jobs that need to be done, and there’s a lot of kids that need that second chance.”

“And if I can catch a kid when he’s 16 or 15 or 18 and get them to change and transition into that successful life before they get where I was,” Franz said, “then I feel good about that.”