The attitude of employers is often the biggest obstacle to employment for those with criminal records. It’s almost like hitting the proverbial brick wall.
But the Council of State Governments is out to change those entrenched attitudes. This nonprofit organization works with local, state and federal policymakers to strengthen communities and increase public safety and has created the Pathways to Prosperity initiative.
The initiative, part of the National Reentry Resource Center of the organization’s Justice Center, seeks to provide a policy and practice framework for states to better address workforce needs and to equip citizens with the skills, knowledge and qualifications needed for the 21st century global economy.
And part of this initiative is inspiring cities around the nation to find ways that the public and private sectors can work together to provide employment opportunities to people with criminal records.
Launched last summer at the White House, the initial event, moderated by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, included state-level policymakers, leaders from the corrections and workforce development field, nonprofit leaders, government officials and business executives from companies such as Home Depot, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, and Tim Hortons, Inc. It was virtually attended by more than 1,650 corrections, reentry and labor professionals from 41 states.
That original event has sparked others. So far they’ve taken place in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Indianapolis, Memphis and Los Angeles. Organized by various entities, usually a chamber of commerce or a nonprofit organization, these events have included a variety of attendees.
“There’s a mix of different stakeholders,” says Phoebe Potter, director of the Justice Center’s behavioral health program. “Businesses are our primary stakeholders, but we’re also encouraging local and state officials, core policymakers at the state and local level, corrections officials, workforce development professionals and other providers to become involved.”
Each event is different, depending on the place and the goals of the sponsoring organization. Here are the details of the past gatherings:
- Los Angeles: This February event, sponsored by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, was held at the Men’s Central Jail, the first of these gatherings to take place in a correctional institution. It brought business leaders together with correction officials.
- Memphis: Organized by the CSG’s National Reentry Resource Center and Memphis Tomorrow, this closed-door event held in January served as a preliminary dialogue among a group that included business executives, Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, Jr., among other state and local leaders.
- Indianapolis: Sponsored by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the Marion County Reentry Coalition, the December event drew attendees to the city’s Ironworker’s Union Hall. A city-county council member, the deputy director of the city’s Department of Public Safety and executives from local businesses addressed the group.
- Atlanta: Business leaders from companies like Home Depot, judges, workforce development officials, correctional officials and others attended this large-scale gathering in November.
- Washington, D.C.: DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, corporate executives and officials from the EEOC and DC Office on Returning Citizens Affairs were among the speakers at the September event, which was sponsored by the Council for Court Justice,
What does The Council on State Governments hope these events will achieve?
“Our initial ask was just to talk, to start a dialogue. We felt that what was missing was a chance to help break down some of the stigma, the concerns about this population,” said Potter. “We really want to think about solutions that are collaborative – that businesses can get behind.”
To learn how you can hold a similar event in your area contact the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments.