To get returning citizens back to work and help reduce recidivism is a monumental task, an effort that takes an entire community to tackle.
Representatives from the public and private sectors ranging from corrections to corporations need to work together to change policies, procedures and, most importantly, attitudes.
And that is beginning to happen in cities across the nation, thanks to the nonprofit The Council of State Governments’ Pathways to Prosperity initiative.
The initiative, part of the National Reentry Resource Center of the CSG 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.
It does this by inspiring other organizations to hold events that bring people together to make change in the hiring arena and eradicate the employment barriers that exist for formerly incarcerated individuals.
CSG’s effort was launched last summer at the White House and has continued across the nation with a series of events including, most recently, in Greenville, S.C.; Detroit; and Atlanta.
In May, the Greenville, S.C., Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Corporate Leader Engagement Breakfast attended by 30 employers, as well as community leaders, policymakers and corrections officials. They met to discuss the barriers to hiring people with criminal records and determine the best way to overcome them.
“Employers are looking to hire folks who are loyal, drug free and produce quality work,” said Robyn Knox, planning director at Southern Weaving Company, a Greenville business that hires people with criminal records, and one of the speakers at the event.
“We would not be in business today if these folks were not good workers,” said Knox, who went on to note that criminal records don’t affect staff retention. There is “no statistical difference in turnover,” she said, between her company’s employees who have records and its employees who don’t.
In Detroit, another event with a similar purpose was held during the same month, hosted in that city by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with support from the Detroit Public Safety Foundation.
Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, gave the keynote address, urging businesses to adopt “ban the box” policies.
The author and activist cited Tim Hortons, Home Depot, and Target as examples of companies that have adopted fair hiring policies. By providing job opportunities for people with criminal records, she said, “these companies are not just banning the box, they are making a serious effort to reshape the reentry landscape moving forward.”
Meanwhile, the Southern Regional Summit on Fair Hiring, which took place on May 18 in Atlanta, brought together more than 100 policymakers, business representatives and community service providers from seven southern states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – to discuss creating employment opportunities for adults with criminal records.
The event was hosted by the National H.I.R.E. Network of the Legal Action Center, with support from the National Reentry Resource Center.
These events are part of the growing conversation across the country between business leaders and policymakers who are working to improve employment outcomes for individuals with criminal records.
It can be a win-win situation, with returning citizens eager to enter the job market and employers gaining access to a frequently overlooked talent pool in a tightening job market.
To learn how you can hold a similar event in your area contact the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments.