Every year 700,000 men and women are released from prison or jail and re-enter society. Unfortunately, as SHRM Public Affairs Manager Mary Kaylor points out (#Nextchat: Getting Talent Back to Work with Second Chance Hiring), these job seekers are often locked out of the job market due to outdated employment practices that continue to present barriers to their hiring. Despite the growing need among U.S. employers for workers, applicants with a criminal record often face huge obstacles to achieving gainful employment. However, given the current low unemployment rate and tight labor market, this approach to justice-involved applicants may no longer be a practical strategy for organizations.
As the nation reaches full employment, business leaders and human resources professionals are considering this previously overlooked population as a source for workers for the first time. In fact, job applicants with criminal records are proving to be a viable workplace solution for many organizations.
In 2018, the White House hosted a roundtable of executives from such companies as Uber, Home Depot and Johns Hopkins Health System, as well as officials like governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Matt Bevin of Kentucky, to discuss the challenges and benefits of hiring justice involved individuals. Inc. magazine Editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan says that many employers reported very positive results from giving people with records a second chance (Why Hiring People out of Prison Will Be Your Next Workforce Strategy). Several other employers at the roundtable said that people with records often are so grateful for a chance that they are among the most dedicated employees with the best retention rates.
Some Bay Area examples of positive outcomes when hiring formerly incarcerated individuals include:
Vericool is a local company that is not only completely green but was founded by a former East Bay gang member who now hires ex-felons who are getting out of jail. Darrell Jobe launched the company, making packing boxes and shipping containers, in a factory in Livermore. Half the people who work in the factory have been in jail or prison. When Kyil Parker got out of jail for dealing drugs, no one would hire him. But he got a second chance at Vericool, and he’s been there for a year and a half. Jobe’s business is growing, but perhaps the most rewarding part is hiring people that no one else will. (see Former East Bay gang member launches completely green company, hires ex-felons for full story)
Even by the standards of the Bay Area, where sourcing local, organic chicken feed is seen as something of a political act, the spectacle of 30,000 fruit and nut trees being tended by formerly incarcerated orchardists is novel. The green thumbs are there because of Planting Justice, a nine-year-old nonprofit that combines urban farming with environmental education and jobs for ex-offenders. From its headquarters in a pair of salvaged shipping containers on a dead-end street in East Oakland, Calif., Planting Justice has forged a trail in which revenue-generating businesses help subsidize the group’s core mission: hiring former inmates, many from nearby San Quentin State Prison, and giving them a “family sustaining” wage, along with health benefits and a month of paid leave annually. About half the total staff of 30 have served time in prison. Of the 35 formerly incarcerated workers hired by Planting Justice since 2009, only one is known to have returned to prison. (see Kale, Not Jail: Urban Farming Nonprofit Helps Ex-Cons Re-enter Society for full story)
Civil rights activists are pushing East Bay companies to hire formerly incarcerated people and applicants with criminal records — and merchants say it’s a winning strategy. Rubicon Bakery in Richmond and Smoke Berkeley are part of a growing number of East Bay businesses that actively work to provide job opportunities to formerly incarcerated people and applicants with criminal records. There are state and federal subsidies available for companies that hire people convicted of felonies. Additionally, a worker who has faced a steady stream of rejections due to a past conviction often is a uniquely dedicated and productive employee once he or she finally gets a job opportunity. Derreck Johnson, owner of the Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland’s Jack London district estimates that 60 to 70 percent of his 44 employees have criminal records, including two managers who were previously convicted of felonies. At Give Something Back, an office supplies business headquartered in East Oakland, providing jobs for people with felonies offers subsidies and tax credits that make hiring formerly incarcerated people a good financial investment. (see East Bay Businesses that Give Applicants a Fair Chance for full story)
If your organization is considering recruiting justice involved individuals, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has partnered with Koch Industries to produce the Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit, which offers extensive information and resources to support the hiring of workers with a criminal background. The toolkit provides helpful guidance on a range of issues, including:
- Background Check Providers
- Interviewing and Assessment
- Screening Guidance
- Risk Analysis
- Culture and Communication
Locally, Root & Rebound in Oakland has also produced a California-based Fair Chance Hiring Guide. There are programs at nearly every level of government that offer financial incentives for organizations that hire people re-entering the community after serving prison time, including:
The Tri-Valley Career Center offers resources to support the re-entry of justice-involved people into the workforce. For more information, call (925) 560-9431 or email Charles Turner at Charles.Turner@acgov.org.
If you are willing to give candidates with criminal backgrounds a second chance and include them in your selection process, you may find that justice-involved individuals could well be among your next great hires.