BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Former offenders are forging paths to a brighter future with the help of a Baltimore judge.

District Court of Maryland Associate Judge Nicole Pastore Klein has founded a new jobs program in hopes of breaking the cycle of defendants who repeatedly end up in her courtroom.

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While some complete the program as a condition of their probation, it’s already changing lives.

“Six months ago, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have a plan or direction where I was going. And they gave me the push and the drive to find something that i love,” says Troy Williams who is one of 28 new graduates of the District Court Re-Entry Project. “I thought, there’s gotta be something else.”

The program aims to help those with a criminal record struggling to find a job.

“It cost $44,600 to incarcerate one individual. That’s for one year. It costs nothing to give them a job,” says Klein.

Statistically, within three years of release, about 68 percent of offenders nationwide will wind up back in jail. In Maryland, that number is 40 percent.

Klein says the rap sheets stop once ex-offenders begin her program. Not a single one of her 51 graduates have returned to prison, according to Klein.

Some of the graduates’ jobs include bartenders, construction workers and event planners.

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“I think it’s the best place I ever worked, ever,” says Mozella Sneed, program graduate.

Sneed, once homeless, says she’s back on track.

“It actually just pushed me. Pushed me to strive, pushed me even though I have obstacles, like every day,” says Sneed.

Those involved with the program say it gives hope to those who — on paper — seem unemployable.

“They show them that they’re worth something. So they’re not just on probation, they’re on probation with a purpose,” says Latoya Evans, parole and probation agent.

The entire program is run by seven volunteers, but Klein says a grant awaiting approval from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan would allow them to hire one staff member to expand the program.

Klein and volunteers are optimistic the program will continue to curb convictions — by building careers instead.

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