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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jobs for Felons: Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

Aaron Mondry - Splinter News - Detroit

 Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

Edward Minor had a paper due for his English class on income inequality at Wayne County Community College in Detroit. He’d completed all the research and knew what he wanted to write. The main issue was time—he only had a few hours.

But countless, frustrating obstacles delayed his progress, from the laborious pace at which 62-year-old Minor types to figuring out how to save his document. The final step, however, was really tripping him up. Since he was using a computer at the library, he needed to email the file to himself so he could edit it later on a different computer.

“Do I just put my email address up here?” Minor asked, pointing to the bar at the top of the web browser. Eventually he got some help from a computer technician, but he wasn’t confident he’d be able to find the document later.

“They’re doing it so fast and I’m trying to follow,” he says. “They don’t see that there’s a baby right here in front of them. I’m a baby out here!”

Jobs for Felons: Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

Ed Minor types at the Detroit Public Library, wearing a pin with a photo of Angela Davis.
Photo: Nick Hagen

Indeed, Minor’s relationship to the world isn’t so different from that of an infant. That’s because, in October 2017, Minor was released from prison after being incarcerated for more than 40 years. A modern-day Rip Van Winkle (who left society for a mere two decades), Minor is adrift in a society that left him behind.

The hunt-and-peck typing method he employs, which itself is slower than usual, is just the beginning of his technological difficulties. The computers, wireless internet, and touch screens that many take for granted are alien to him. Even looking at a computer screen—with all its strange icons, commands, and windows—is like deciphering the Rosetta Stone.
While Minor may be an extreme case, he squarely fits the description of Americans who suffer most from the digital divide, a phenomenon that describes how technology can contribute to inequality: He’s elderly, he’s poor, and he’s a person of color.

Resolving the divide’s underlying issues will be anything but simple, but the negative effects are pretty straightforward. If you don’t have access to the internet or the skills to use it, you also won’t have access to countless jobs and resources. As Tom Wheeler, former chair of the FCC, said in 2015, “The bottom line is this: If you are not connected to the internet…you cannot participate fully in our economy and our democracy.”

As of 2015, Detroit was the least connected city in America. Forty percent of Detroit’s households have no broadband connection and 70 percent of its school-age kids have no internet access at home (excluding smartphones).

For its size, Detroit is woefully under-connected. But rural areas and small metropolises often have it worse. According to a Brookings Institute report, almost one in four people in the United States lived in low subscription neighborhoods in 2015. Fewer than 40 percent of households subscribed to broadband internet.

Price is often an inhibiting factor. Detroit’s two main broadband providers, Comcast and AT&T, respectively, offer plans for their slowest connections at $25 for 12 months (and $50 afterwards) and $40 per month with a $99 installation fee.

Jobs for Felons: Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

Ed Minor
Photo: Nick Hagen

Federal programs can lower the cost of these plans, but a study by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) showed that in Cleveland and Detroit, AT&T didn’t built out the infrastructure sufficiently to provide residents with high enough connection speeds to meet program guidelines. In other words, there’s a major correlation between plan availability and poverty.

The NDIA has described this as “digital redlining,” a reference to the practice that denied people of color access to housing, and which ran rampant in Detroit in the mid-1900s.

That’s in line with what Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project, has witnessed. “Whether it’s artificial intelligence or internet access or healthcare,” she says, “the problems of the digital divide all stem from the same place: racism.”

I described Minor’s situation to Nucera and asked what she thought. “If he’s a victim of the digital divide, he’s also a victim of several other things before that,” she says. “It’s much more complicated than giving this gentleman a computer.”

Before Minor ever went to prison, understanding modern-day technology was the least of his concerns.

He came from a challenging home life. “My family were alcoholics,” he says. “I never met my mother’s side of the family. My father’s side was just drunks, dope fiends, dealing in corn liquor. My father was always jumping on my mother; my uncles were always jumping on their girlfriends.”
That contributed to his feeling aimless as a youth growing up on Detroit’s west side. “I didn’t know what to do with my life,” he says. “Didn’t want to do anything with my life.”
As for technology, his family didn’t even own a color TV.

“The problems of the digital divide all stem from the same place: racism.”

Minor was imprisoned once for seven months for breaking and entering. When he was released, he wanted to pay back a favor for a friend that helped him out while in prison. But the only way he knew how to get the money was to steal it. Planning to mug someone outside a nightclub, he says he brought an unloaded BB gun whereas his co-defendant, without telling him, brought a real gun.

According to Minor, his accomplice shot the person they were mugging, and after they were arrested, made a statement saying Minor committed the murder. Minor says he was pressured by his lawyer and the judge to plead guilty to second degree murder.
The sentence: life with parole.

Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

Ed Minor checks the bus schedule on his phone.
Photo: Nick Hagen
Since getting out of prison, Minor has lived with his cousin in Southfield, an adjacent suburb of Detroit about 15 miles from downtown. On a normal day, Minor wakes up at around 11am, eats breakfast, and takes an hour and a half-long, two-bus transfer journey—with an undersized bicycle in tow—to either the WCCC campus or Detroit Public Library’s main branch. There he’ll do school work and develop his computer skills for several hours before heading to his job as a dishwasher at a nearby restaurant.

He often closes out, which means leaving work at around midnight and catching one of the last rapid buses heading north. At that time of night, the bus no longer runs for the last four-mile leg home, so he either bikes or walks depending on the weather. Once, the bus never came and his co-worker paid for a rideshare. He rarely gets into bed before 3am.

While at the downtown library, the person assisting him is often Keronce Sims, a computer technician. He teaches classes on computing basics, but his main job is helping patrons and employees troubleshoot computer issues. That means he’s often running from one request to the next all day long.

“What aren’t I responsible for?” Sims says with a laugh. “I’m one of three in the building…I’m putting out some matches, some candles, some fires.”

Local libraries are common destinations for people without computers or internet access. Detroit’s main branch has about 80 computers and there’s no time limit on how long someone can use one or, aside from games and X-rated content, what they can use them for.

In his 30 years at the library, Sims has seen all types of people use the computers for every conceivable reason: to apply for assistance, look for work, write a thesis, sue someone, or just to watch videos and go on Facebook.

Sometimes, according to Sims, people have panic attacks when trying to take care of a stressful matter using a machine they don’t understand. “I see it all the time,” he says. “I see a lot of impairments. Some are dyslexic, some are recovering from a physical injury or a stroke. Some are visually impaired. I’ve seen people with missing digits.”

Sims has been working with Minor since the summer and is encouraged by his effort. “Some people inquire about our services but don’t show up,” he says. “But [Minor] showed up. He knew nothing at first—the whole digital world was foreign to him.”

Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

Keronce Sims helps Ed Minor navigate a computer at the Detroit Public Library.
Photo: Nick Hagen

In addition to having a felony on his record, little free time in his daily life, bad eyesight, hyperthyroidism, and no car, Minor also has very little money, and few people he can rely on besides his cousin. He’s also battling the type of culture shock that has nothing to do with the digital world. Simply going to the supermarket is a stressful experience that results in decision paralysis. “I stick to chocolate or vanilla ice cream and white socks,” he says.

As director of DCTP, Nucera oversees programs that foster use of technology based on community need. One of those programs is the Equitable Internet Initiative, which will provide 150 Detroit households with high-speed internet access. The program also involved training 25 local “digital stewards,” two of whom were in their late seventies, in hardware installation and WiFi setup. Age matters, but it’s not the primary barrier.

Minor has a passion for housing. After he’s done taking his prerequisites at WCCC, he’s planning to take classes on real estate. Despite everything he’s been through, he’s remarkably optimistic.
“Oh, it’s gonna get done,” he says. “Keep doing what I’m doing, don’t cry about it, move with it. I feel I’m on a mission.”

Sims and Nucera both think he has the capacity to overcome his technological difficulties.
“Clearly he’s extremely resilient,” Nucera says. “You don’t come out of prison after 40 years as an optimistic man without having a sense of self and being very intelligent. It’s not about his ability to learn. It’s about whether or not society can accept someone who’s been in prison for that long.”

Updated List of Companies that Hire Ex-offenders and Felons

Navigating a Digital World After 40 Years in Prison

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Eric Mayo

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Jobs for Felons: Top Five Ways for Ex-offenders and Felons to Find Jobs

 Jobs for Felons:  Top Five Ways for Ex-offenders and Felons to Find Jobs

In Search of the Felon-Friendly Workplace

When inmates are released, most hope they will never face incarceration again.  One sure way to increase the odds of success is to find stable employment as soon as possible.  I have been helping ex-offenders and felons get jobs for many years and I have found some really good ways that people with criminal records can get hired.  I am sharing the top five ways here:

Temporary Agencies - Temporary employment agencies are one the best ways for a felon to get a job.  Many companies turn to temp agencies as a way to keep their businesses running.  Often when an employer finds that a temporary employer has a good work ethic and fits well the job is offered permanently.  The key for ex-offenders and felons applying for temporary work is to apply to local independent agencies rather than large corporate agencies.  The larger companies often have policies that are set in their corporate offices that prohibit the hiring of those with criminal records.  Local independent agencies can employ anyone they feel they can place regardless of whether they have a record or not.  Grab you local telephone book and make of list of temp agencies to visit and fill out applications just like you would any other employer.

Moving Companies, Furniture and Appliance Retailers - Moving companies and stores that sell large appliances and furniture often are looking for strong capable people who can move large items.  Often criminal records are of little importance if they can find a dependable person who can get the job done by delivering goods safe and sound to customers.

Large Retail Stores - When you think of large retail stores like Target, Wal-Mart or you local supermarket you think of cashiers and department salespeople.  What few people think about are the unseen people who help to keep the store running.  There are people who clean the floors, stock the shelves and unload trucks.  The reason we rarely see these people is because they work overnight.  Not everyone is cut out to work the overnight shift.  Often it is hard for people to work that shift.  Because of this, there are often openings for people who can do a good job on the overnight crew.  Contact your local large retail store or supermarket to find out if there are any openings on the overnight shift.

Property Managers - Many apartment and condominium communities are manage by property mangers who keep everything looking nice for the residents. Every property manager has a staff at every property who does the work necessary to maintain these communities.  There are often openings for people who can do minor repairs, painting and general cleaning.  Many of these communities have the property manger's name on the signs at the entrances.  Contact them to inquire about any open positions

Restaurants - Every restaurant is in need of people who are dependable and can do a variety of jobs. Dish washing, filling ice stations, and helping the kitchen, bar and wait staff are just a few of the duties of the kitchen utility person.  If you can get to work on time and have a passion for serving guests, there are many jobs available.  Make a list of restaurants in your area and call each one to see if there are positions available.  You can cover a lot more ground on the telephone than you can on foot.

Ex-offenders and felons are hired everyday.  There are jobs to be had if you are willing to put in the work to find them and prepare yourself to show employers that you will be a great employee.  Best of luck!

Eric Mayo

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Jobs for Felons:  Using Temp Agencies


Jobs for Felons:  Top Five Ways for Ex-offenders and Felons to Find Jobs

Jobs for Felons: Top Five Ways for Ex-offenders and Felons to Find Jobs

Jobs for Felons:  Top Five Ways for Ex-offenders and Felons to Find Jobs

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Jobs for Felons: Target pays $3.7 million to settle lawsuit over racial disparity in use of criminal background checks

Claims of racial disparity in how criminal background checks are used led to $3.7M class-action settlement. 

Target pays $3.7 million to settle lawsuit over racial disparity in use of criminal background checks
By Kavita Kumar Star Tribune

Target Corp. has agreed to pay $3.7 million to settle a lawsuit over concerns that the way it uses criminal background checks as part of the hiring process has disproportionately hurt black and Latino applicants.

“Target’s background check policy was out of step with best practices and harmful to many qualified applicants who deserved a fair shot at a good job,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which worked on the case. “Criminal background information can be a legitimate tool for screening job applicants, but only when appropriately linked to relevant questions such as how long ago the offense occurred and whether it was a nonviolent or misdemeanor offense.”

As part of the settlement of the class-action complaint, independent consultants will recommend changes to Target’s current screening guidelines. For example, they will come up with a list of convictions that are not considered job-related and should not disqualify a person from a particular position. They will also review the company’s appeals process that offers candidates a chance to show evidence of rehabilitation.

“We’re glad to resolve this and move forward,” the Minneapolis-based retailer said in a
Target pays $3.7 million to settle lawsuit over racial disparity in use of criminal background checks
statement. “At Target, we have a number of measures in place to ensure we’re fair and equitable in our hiring practices. … And in hiring, like the rest of our business, we hold diversity and inclusion as core values and strive to give everyone access to the same opportunities.”

Maurice Emsellem, program director with advocacy group National Employment Law Project, said this is one of the largest settlements of its kind and will likely provide a model for other employers as they look to adopt better hiring practices and policies.

In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau agreed to pay $15 million to settle a similar class-action suit that involved an estimated 450,000 black and Latino applicants who may have been passed over for jobs because of background-check practices.

“Employers are now way more tuned into the laws and policies that encourage them to create more fair practices to hire people with records,” Emsellem said. “But there’s still plenty of big employers and small employers who have a long way to go to clean up their policies.”

As part of the settlement, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New York, black and Latino applicants who were denied employment from a Target store because of a criminal-background check since May 2006 will be eligible for priority hiring or interviewing for current open positions. Alternately, they can seek a financial award of up to $1,000.

Target is also giving $600,000 to five organizations that work to help individuals with criminal backgrounds find employment: AccessAbility’s Career & Educational Pathways program and RS Eden in Minnesota, Center for Employment Opportunities and the Fortune Society in New York, and A New Way of Life Reentry Project in California.

In 2016, Target was among the companies that signed on to a White House pledge that encouraged employers to eliminate unnecessary barriers facing applicants with criminal records.

Like many major employers, Target started using criminal background checks as part of its hiring process more than a decade ago. The retailer, which employs about 345,000 workers and is among the nation’s largest employers, used to ask job applicants about their criminal history on the initial application form.

But as part of the so-called “Ban the Box” movement, critics complained that such screening at the outset made it difficult for ex-offenders to get jobs even if their offenses were from when they were young or were not pertinent to the positions for which they were applying.

In 2013, Minnesota passed a law barring private employers from asking about criminal history on application forms. The following year, Target removed that question from its applications nationwide.

“Now, we gather criminal background information in the final stages of the hiring process,” Target said in a statement. “This ensures individuals are considered for employment based on their qualifications, interview and availability.”

However, the company said it still believes it’s important to consider conviction history.

“Individuals are given an opportunity to explain their criminal history and provide information about the circumstances, mitigating factors, good conduct and rehabilitation,” the company said. “We exclude applicants whose criminal histories could pose a risk to our guests, team members or property, and design our process to treat all applicants fairly while maintaining a safe and secure working and shopping environment for team members and guests.”

According to the lawsuit, Target’s policies mandated automatic rejection of applicants for broad categories of misdemeanors and felonies such as violence, theft and controlled substances convictions within seven years of applying. If an application required further review, it was forwarded to Target’s human resources division, which used its discretion to make a final determination “rather than apply any objective or validated measures,” the complaint said.

Such a screening process imported “the racial and ethnic disparities that exist in the criminal justice system into the employment process, thereby multiplying the negative impact on African-American and Latino job applicants,” the lawsuit said, noting that those groups are arrested and incarcerated at rates much higher than whites.

The plaintiffs in the case included Carnella Times, a 47-year-old black woman who applied for an overnight stocker position at a Target store in Connecticut in 2006. She was disqualified because of two misdemeanor convictions from 10 years earlier. The following year, she filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued her a right to sue in 2015 after years of investigation.

Another plaintiff was Erving Smith, a 40-year-old black man who applied for a stocker position at a store in Pittsburgh in 2014. He was denied the job because of a drug-related felony conviction from 2004.

Target pays $3.7 million to settle lawsuit over racial disparity in use of criminal background checks

Jobs for Felons: The Facts about Companies that Hire Ex offenders and Felons (2018)

Target pays $3.7 million to settle lawsuit over racial disparity in use of criminal background checks

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Eric Mayo

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Uber corporate policy offers felons a second chance

Story by Ryan Randazzo,Uriel J. Garcia and Bree Burkitt, The Republic |

Uber corporate policy offer felons a second chanceThe operator behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber vehicle that hit and killed a 49-year-old woman in Tempe Sunday night had served almost four years in an Arizona prison in the early 2000s on an attempted armed robbery conviction.

Uber issued a statement Tuesday saying the operator met its hiring requirements in Arizona. The company directed questions to Uber's public hiring policy that states, "Everyone deserves a fair chance."

However, requirements differ across states for those who provide transportation to the public. Uber recently came under fire for hiring felons in Colorado.

"Vehicle operators in Arizona undergo a screening process that checks local, state and national databases and meets local requirements by law," an Uber spokeswoman said. "The vehicle operator met these requirements."

The San Francisco-based company's policy for hiring drivers in California states that potential Uber drivers are disqualified if they have convictions on felonies, sexual offenses, violent crimes, DUI or drug-related driving offenses, speeding more than 100 mph or child abuse or endangerment in the past seven years. The company set lower standards for lesser violations such as speeding and non-fatal accidents.

A fatal crash in the dark

Elaine Herzberg was walking a bike across Mill Avenue outside the crosswalk near the Marquee Theatre about 10 p.m. Sunday when she was hit, police said.

Police said the vehicle was in autonomous mode with an operator, who has been identified as 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, behind the wheel.

Tempe police spokesman Sgt. Ronald Elcock said impairment did not initially appear to be a factor for either Vasquez or Herzberg. He added it was not apparent that the vehicle attempted to slow down while it approached Herzberg.

Autonomous vehicles have been used to shuttle Uber passengers in parts of Tempe and Scottsdale. Riders who are picked up by self-driving cars likely would recognize them from the presence of the exterior sensors.

$8.9 million fine in Colorado

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission company fined Uber's parent company $8.9 million in November 2017 after an investigation determined the ride-hailing service had hired nearly 60 drivers with previous felony convictions.

Colorado state law prevents individuals with felony convictions, alcohol or drug-related driving offenses, unlawful sexual offenses and major traffic violations from working for rideshare companies.

Uber attributed the unlawful hirings to a "process area" inconsistent with Colorado's ridesharing regulations. The company said all drivers must undergo a third-party background screening "per Uber safety policies and Colorado state regulations."

A second-chance policy

Uber proudly touts its corporate policy to offer convicts a second chance.

"One mistake shouldn’t have to lead to a lifetime of punishment," the company website says. "At Uber, we are committed to working within our communities to help provide opportunities to those who need them most."

Close to 300 people worked in the self-driving operations in Tempe as of November 2017. Uber has more than 18,000 contract drivers and 1,000 employees in Arizona, with most of those staffers at the downtown Phoenix operations center.

Court records show Vasquez has a criminal record in Arizona under a different legal name.

Records from the Arizona Department of Corrections show Vasquez served three years and 10 months in prison for attempted armed robbery and unsworn falsification, the latter from when she provided false information while applying government benefits. She was released from prison in 2005.

The attempted armed robbery was in July 2000, when police say Vasquez and an accomplice conspired to rob one of her co-workers and her employer, Blockbuster Video, of a work deposit of $2,782.98, court records show.

A probation officer wrote in court records that Vasquez recognized she had surrounded herself with people who encouraged “ill-advised” actions, leading her to get in trouble. She said she needed to change who she allowed into her life and make better decisions, the officer wrote.

It appears she followed through. Vasquez has had a clean record since.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jobs for felons: Turning a Criminal Record Into a Successful Career

Uber corporate policy offers felons a second chance

Uber corporate policy offers felons a second chance

Uber corporate policy offers felons a second chance

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Eric Mayo

Read More | Now you can have a Masters in Criminal Justice
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