Newly named ‘Recovery Court’ gets help from Local 54, Hard Rock
Atlantic and Cape May County Drug Court is getting a new name and offering new opportunities.
Now known as Recovery Court, the program is partnering with the city’s casino union to train participants for work in the casino industry.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be the first resort casino to open its employment up to Drug Court participants.
“If you’re sober and living a sober life, why wouldn’t we hire you in our industry?” asked Joseph Jingoli, one of the partners who bought the former Taj Mahal that will soon open as the Hard Rock. “And what better way than to change the name of Drug Court to Recovery Court to promote the idea so people won’t carry the stigma of their past into their new life.”
That stigma is what sparked Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson to push for a name change in the Atlantic and Cape May county courts, where he currently oversees about 800 participants — the most in the state.
Assignment Judge Julio Mendez gave Sandson his full support.
“What we do is recovery,” Sandson said. “We don’t do drugs.”
Now, those who do well will be referred to UNITE HERE Local 54 for training in culinary and environmental/cleaning services, explained union President Bob McDevitt.
Hard Rock is hiring 3,500 people in an area that has been one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, noted Jingoli, who has long worked for addiction related causes.
“I think this is a story of an industry, a city, a state, a judiciary and organized labor all coming together to say, ‘Let’s do everything we can here and now in our community and give people the best chance at succeeding in their new life: a job,’” he said.
It also falls into the Hard Rock’s mission of “Love all, serve all. Save the planet,” noted Robert Lee, vice president of community relations and governmental affairs for the Atlantic City version.
“We’re pushing that mission to the community and to the organizations within the community,” he said.
That will include an ambassador program, where Hard Rock employees will be encouraged to volunteer in community events.
“I think there’s a real opportunity to help get people to work and get employers good workers,” McDevitt said.
And there are many willing, Sandson noted.
At the first meeting Local 54 held, 60 Recovery Court participants showed up on a non-court day, he said.
About 75 percent had worked in the casino industry before they wound up in the criminal court system.
“We are hiring people as we speak,” Jingoli said Monday. “And when they go to their second interview, they’re not held back or rejected because of their past.”
Those who come earn their way there by following the court’s program and showing they are ready to change their lives, he said.
“People coming out of Recovery Court will need to work a program of recovery for the rest of their lives,” Jingoli said. “And if they do, I have no doubts they’ll be great employees, community members, parents, wives and husbands.”
While Hard Rock has driven a lot of this, other properties in the city are coming onboard in varying stages, McDevitt said.
“We have tremendous support from the industry as a whole,” Jingoli said.
“The reality is, it was very difficult to get hired with any kind of record,” McDevitt said.
He recalled model employees who would end up fired after a decade of service when a random background check would reveal a previously undisclosed arrest or conviction.
“A lot has changed since then,” he said.
McDevitt said they are working on several avenues for funding the training, which will expand with the need.
“What if right here in Atlantic City we start the change?” Jingoli said. “What if we start recruiting and looking for people who are wanting to change their lives and support them in that? What better place to start than Atlantic City?”