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Showing posts with label Second Chance Jobs for Felons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Second Chance Jobs for Felons. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Second Chances: Efforts Underway To Hire Ex-Offenders

 Zenger News  

In May 2012, Colin Slaven was in what he called “the worst time of my life” after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud for his part in an $800,000 auto loan scheme. About six months into his 21-month sentence, British-born Slaven found himself flailing in a South Carolina federal correctional facility that was as alien to him as the dark side of the moon.
Then, he had a revelation.

“God put me here for a reason, and it gave me a lot of time to reflect,” he said. “I didn’t even know what recidivism meant. So I started talking to inmates about their circumstances and listening to what brought them to this chapter in their lives. I found that with a felony conviction, you’re never given a chance. There’s a stigma. When you have a felony, people judge you, but you can’t find employment. I don’t condone crime, but when you’re in survival mode, you may find yourself in a situation where you get busted again.”

Slaven has plenty of company: It’s estimated that 19 million felons in America are facing similar employment challenges. A new book by an investment strategist argues that second-chance hiring — employing people with a criminal record — builds stronger communities, increases public safety and boosts the bottom line.

Jeffrey Korzenik, author of “Untapped Talent: How Second-Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community.” (Courtesy of Jeffrey D. Korzenik)

In “Untapped Talent: How Second-Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community,” Jeffrey Korzenik implores business leaders to consider hiring ex-offenders as a counterweight to the sparse labor markets of recent years.

“The tight labor markets of 2018 and 2019 were a wake-up call that businesses should not take an abundant labor force for granted,” he said. “Part of that dynamic is demographic: Roughly 10,000 baby boomers will retire each day over the next decade, and with the millennial generation largely in the workforce, there’s not a next big wave of home-grown workers.”

Colin Slaven drafted the business plan for what would become the Second Chance Jobs Center while serving a sentence for conspiracy to commit bank fraud. (Courtesy of Colin Slaven/Second Chance Jobs Center)

Like Slaven, Korzenik points to recidivism as a challenge to opportunities for ex-offenders, particularly in the African American community, where one in three men has a felony conviction.

“The pervasiveness of incarceration and subsequent joblessness has robbed these communities of role models, mentors and the intergenerational transmission of skills needed to be a viable employee, so too many young people become involved in the justice system and repeat the cycle over again,” he said. “I see second-chance employment as the critical path to breaking this terrible cycle.”

The second-chance hiring model 

Korzenik writes in his book that “the potential for any nation’s economy to grow boils down to two factors: 1) how fast it can grow its employed labor force, and 2) how quickly it can grow the productivity of its workers. The product of this sum is the long-term growth potential.” His second-chance hiring model aligns with these factors.

“The concept is very simple, requiring two processes, one that can identify the people determined to rebuild their lives and the second, which provides them the support to thrive as employees,” he said. “In practice, this means employers must invest time in building partnerships with nonprofits, specialized temp staffing or transitional employment organizations and government agencies to build the right pipeline.”

The investment in second-chance hiring varies according to employers’ individual approach to tackling their labor needs.

“There is absolutely an investment of time, and often there is a financial investment as well,” Korzenik said. “What’s unusual about seeking this talent pool is how many outside resources are available to the second-chance employers —nonprofit service providers, tax credits, government agencies.

“Each employer has to calibrate the program to their needs and resources. A no-cost program that focuses on people who have already rebuilt their lives will yield some previously overlooked talent. On the other extreme, looking at people immediately exiting incarceration will yield more candidates, but will also require the employer to invest more in accommodations and services. Employers need to understand the trade-offs and be very intentional in their process.”

Giving ex-offenders a fair chance

Building a best-in-class hiring program for ex-offenders is not an easy task. Korzenik devotes an entire chapter on how one Ohio-based company, through trial and error, created its “Fair Chance” initiative.

The Secret Life Sentence of Being a Felon | Harley Blakeman | TEDxOhioStateUniversity

Manufacturing firm JBM Packaging has operated outside of Cincinnati, in Lebanon, Ohio, since it opened in 1985. Although JBM is close to the Cincinnati labor market, the company went through a seven-year stretch where qualified labor was hard to find, particularly among those workers without a car. Attempts to woo area high school students and seasoned workers fell flat, forcing the company to hire expensive, but not always productive temp-to-hire employees.

“Some leaders have built companies from the ground up as second-chance employers,” Korzenik writes in the book. “That is not the case with JBM. By all appearances, [Chief Executive Officer] Marcus Sheanshang came to second-chance hiring as an ordinary businessman with an ordinary business problem. But with Sheanshang’s leadership, the way this initiative changed the company and the lives of its employees was extraordinary.”

After learning of the second-chance hiring concept from church members, Sheanshang took the idea to his executive team, who roundly criticized it over issues of safety and performance.

“Fair Chance is a tenet of what we’re trying to do as a company,” said Sheanshang. “Not everyone loves it, but they’re behind it and support it because it’s important.”

“These concerns really speak to the necessity of having a process for selecting the right person for employment,” said Korzenik. “With a pool of 19 million Americans with felony convictions, it is ridiculous to say that all of them are unsuitable. There are screening processes that can be very effective.”

Second Chance Job Center, HBI and Department of Labor Certificates. In 2019, Second Chance Job Center graduated 65 apprentices who are now working in their chosen fields. (Courtesy of Second Chance Job Center)

To make its employees feel safe, JBM limits its second-chance hiring to those convicted of minor offenses. Since it works with prisons and halfway houses, JBM is aware of candidates’ criminal history and conducts background checks before the candidates’ release date. Drug screenings, manufacturing aptitude tests and a screen for workplace fit round out the process.

“Many of these same sources of talent referrals can also provide support services, but ultimately the employer has to be sufficiently involved to make sure their workforce can access internal and external resources,” said Korzenik. “One of [JBM’s] best investments was hiring a life coach, who helps all of the company’s employees access helpful programs, subsidizing purchases of vehicles or other transportation needs, for example.”

Despite the early bumps in launching the program, JBM’s Fair Chance employees now comprise 35 of the company’s 150-person workforce.

Allies in the fight for second-chance hiring

While in prison, Slaven said his spiritual epiphany led him to draft a business plan for what is now the Second-Chance Job Center, a Charleston, South Carolina-area-based nonprofit that trains ex-offenders and others in a variety of job-related skills. Though the program is primarily focused on the state of South Carolina, Slaven said he hopes to expand soon into parts of Georgia and Florida, and eventually nationwide.

“We need to create the next generation of a skilled workforce,” he said.

In a similar vein, the Manufacturing Institute and the Charles Koch Institute recently announced a partnership to expand second-chance hiring opportunities in the manufacturing industry.

“I agree with [the premise of Jeff’s book],” said Carolyn Lee, the manufacturing institute’s executive director. “When you look at the number of people, I think one out of three have some sort of record that removes them from the workforce. And, when you look at the 700,000 open manufacturing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.”

The partnership includes a grant from the Koch institute to host a series of educational events where businesses and employers can learn best practices in second-chance hiring. The Manufacturing Institute has scheduled a webinar on the topic on June 10.

Cost of failure

Businesses that do not embrace second-chance hiring are making a big mistake, Korzenik contends.

“At the micro level, the failure to attract good employees means you can’t grow or perhaps can’t even service your existing customer, putting the business at a huge competitive disadvantage,” he said. “The macro level is just based on the numbers. Even if you don’t account for the potential costs savings in the criminal justice system, just the potential improvement in employment outcomes for just part of the justice-impacted population adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Adopting second-chance hiring also has an impact on a company’s social brand in the marketplace.

“Americans are increasingly questioning whether the free enterprise system can deliver the kind of society we want,” Korzenik said. “Businesses need to show that they can contribute to solving important societal issues. It’s hard to imagine anything more beneficial than second-chance hiring and its intergenerational benefits to families and communities.”

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Friday, February 5, 2021

Ex-offenders struggle to find jobs amid COVID-19

Back in 2015, Bill Livolsi Jr. had no trouble finding work even though he'd been convicted of wire fraud and was upfront with potential employers about his crime.

But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am applying to jobs left, right and sideways, " says Livolsi, who has been looking for work since April when he was released from federal prison after serving a 13-month sentence for the crime. "It is extremely difficult ... They're picking the cream of the crop when there are opportunities.''

Almost 1 in 3 adults in the United States has a criminal record, and finding a job when you have a past arrest or conviction has never been easy. But it's become even more difficult in the midst of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 health crisis that has left millions of Americans unemployed and significantly increased the competition for jobs, public policy experts say.

"Because of COVID-19 ... everybody is having a harder time, and that would be exacerbated for people who are being released from prison,'' says Kristen Broady, policy director for the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, which focuses on economic policy.

Low-wage positions, a lifeline for those with limited prospects, are in high demand and short supply. Restaurants and other industries that offer lower-paying jobs have struggled amid shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. And with a national unemployment rate of 6.7%, employers who have their pick of applicants may be less inclined to hire someone with a record, Broady and others say.   

The hiring dip threatens to slow the progress led by a growing number of states and municipalities to restore the rights of ex-offenders. They are passing laws that wipe criminal records clean, allow some who've committed felonies to vote, and bar employers from asking about criminal histories early in the hiring process. 

Most urgently, the hiring slowdown may make it harder for the 620,000 men and women released from prison each year to get a fresh start and contribute to their communities, advocates and ex-offenders say.  

Bill Livolsi Jr. has struggled to find work after being released from federal prison at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Meaningful employment is crucial,'' says Livolsi, 61, who lives in Owasso, Oklahoma. "It's crucial to rebuild your self-esteem, to rebuild your ties with your family, and just to be able to put food on the table.’’

COVID-19 makes hiring harder 

The jobless rate for those who've been incarcerated has typically been much higher than the general population. A Brookings report published in March 2018 found that 45% of those released from prison did not have any reported pay in the first calendar year after they returned home.

The current jobless rate for those who've been incarcerated is unclear, but placement services that work with ex-offenders believe it's risen during a pandemic that has caused unemployment to soar across the board.  

The Center for Employment Opportunities, which provides transitional employment, coaching and job placement for those released from prison, made 368 placements in April 2019. But in April 2020, near the start of the COVID-19 health crisis, only 140 of its applicants were able to find work.

Similarly, for the period between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2019, the center found jobs for 1,793 of its applicants, but placements dropped by half, to 900, during that same period last year. 

"We already know that in hiring, people with convictions face tremendous hurdles and I think COVID has just exacerbated those situations,'' says Chris Watler, the center's chief external affairs officer.

70 Million Jobs, an employment agency for those with criminal records, says it was particularly successful in finding former offenders jobs in shipping, warehouses and food processing plants. But as the pandemic took hold, "business dropped almost overnight, by 90%,'' says its founder Richard Bronson.

"We were doing very well and then we were virtually out of business," says Bronson, a former financial services executive who started the agency after he served time in prison. 

Will they commit more crimes?
Job seekers who are ex-offenders have to overcome stigma and suspicions that they can't be trusted and may be prone to commit another crime, Bronson says. But historically low unemployment rates before the pandemic, which left tens of thousands of jobs unfilled, made employers more receptive to applicants who'd been incarcerated.

The need for workers also boosted efforts by organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management to get employers to commit to giving qualified applicants with a criminal record an equal chance to be hired.  

But barriers to employment have remained steep. A majority of employers still check to see if job applicants have past convictions, and a host of laws prohibit people convicted of a felony from getting licenses necessary to work in various higher-paying fields such as health care or cosmetology.

Those obstacles have ramifications for not only the individuals who struggle to find work but the economy as a whole, social justice experts say.       

"There is a public safety angle if people can't find jobs when released from prison,'' says Ames Grawert, senior counsel for the Justice Program at New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice. "It's more likely they'll return to crime which no one wants. And there’s research that homelessness is more likely and deep poverty... Even those who do find jobs earn shockingly less than their peers."

The economy suffers

The broader labor market suffers as well. When those with felony convictions or who've been incarcerated struggle to find jobs, the economy loses out on roughly 1.7 to 1.9 million workers, and between $78 billion and $87 billion in gross domestic product, according to a paper by the Center for Economic and Policy Research), released in June 2016, that examined 2014 data.  

Having a job can help reduce the chance ex-offenders will commit new crimes, though the quality of the position and the ability to earn higher wages is key to success as well, research shows.

Chauncey Floyd has struggled to find work after being released from prison last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting Out And Staying Out, a New York area reentry program, says that recidivism rates for its participants who've gone to school, undergone training, received mentorship, or gotten jobs in the previous 90 days are 15% or lower, compared with 67% for young men in a similar age group nationwide. The recidivism rates for its participants dropped as low as 10% early on in the pandemic, says Sonya Shields, Getting Out And Staying Out's chief operating officer. 

Eager to use new skills in jobs

Chauncey Floyd, who returned home last year after serving nearly 16 years in prison, says that like him, many former offenders just want to move on from their pasts and provide for themselves and their families.

Floyd says he was eager to find a job using the computer programming skills he learned while incarcerated. But conversations with potential employers usually end when he tells them he has a record.

“I was ... trying to find a career, not necessarily trying to grab a job just to have one,’’ says Floyd, 46,  who is living with family members in South Carolina.

He's now looking for more manual positions and hopes to eventually start his own business. "You just want to basically have a chance,’’ Floyd says. “Me, going to prison, I don’t want to pay for it for the rest of my life … Some people actually just want to do better.’’

Don't ask about criminal records in job interviews
While hiring has slowed, larger efforts to give ex-offenders more opportunities continue, advocates and public policy experts say. 

Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation that bar employers in the public or private sectors from asking early in the hiring process if an applicant has a criminal record, says Michael Hartman of the National Conference of State Legislature's Civil & Criminal Justice Program. 

And several states, including Pennsylvania, California, North Carolina, and Utah, have passed or are considering "clean slate'' laws that automatically clear the records of some offenders after a certain amount of time, according to a compilation of research on reentry hurdles and initiatives by the Center for American Progress, National Employment Law Project and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.  

On the federal level, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced the "Clean Slate Act'' in December which would automatically seal the federal records of those arrested for simple drug possession. Those convicted of such offenses would have their records sealed after they finish their sentence. And the legislation would also create a framework for ex-offenders to request the sealing of records for other nonviolent crimes.

"That was a real breakthrough,'' Grawert said of the bipartisan bill, which if passed will make it easier for people who've been arrested or convicted to find work without answering questions about their past. 

Promises after George Floyd death

Promises by many businesses to address systemic racism in the wake of the protests that followed the killings of George Floyd and other African Americans could also open up opportunities for the formerly incarcerated, who are disproportionately Black and Latino, advocates say.

“I’m hopeful because I see in the job seekers that I work with a real passion to work, to contribute, to grow,'' says Watler. "And increasingly, I’m seeing employers ... waking up to the fact that their practices have to evolve.'' 

Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones    

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