Imagine for a moment that you spend months or years apart from your loved ones – locked in a prison or jail cell that may be hundreds of miles away from your family, your partner and children, your friends and community. Imagine that you are completely separated and secluded from the world that you once called your home. When you are released from incarceration, you immediately begin to reconnect with your loved ones and try to regain a sense of normalcy.
Like most people who leave incarceration, your primary and most immediate goal will likely be to find a job. Finding gainful employment will likely strike you as the most pressing necessity to help you begin to restore and rebuild a life for yourself and your loved ones. But, in the days, weeks, and months after your release – despite all of your best efforts – you will encounter a slew of insurmountable barriers and obstacles. The most punishing of all: being rejected by a job due to your criminal record.
Approximately 70-100 million men and women in the U.S. have a criminal record – which means that nearly one in three individuals will struggle to obtain meaningful employment. Businesses have the power to turn this around. More and more businesses are considering the idea of second chance employment – hiring individuals with a criminal record. Employers benefit by having a highly motivated and eager talent pool of individuals hungry for a second chance and willing to do what it takes get the job done.
Felony job restrictions are the leading barrier for formerly incarcerated individuals to secure employment following release from prison and these restrictions make it ever more difficult to take advantage of employment opportunities and place limitations on many highly skilled, highly motivated potential job candidates.
Our research at the Institute for Justice Research & Development (IJRD) involves refinement of the 5-Key Model for Reentry – a package of service approaches addressing five key ingredients to successful reentry. One these is Meaningful work trajectories, where the goal is to provide individuals with the tools to prepare them to not only obtain, but to sustain employment – employment that pays a living wage to provide for their families – and build on concrete and soft skills that employers are looking for to increase the chances of long-term success and improve overall well-being. All of these being positive qualities that employers seek when filling positions.
We are currently testing the 5-Key Model with more than 1,500 men and women in four states across the nation. Just like many other formerly incarcerated individuals, our participants overwhelmingly report that employment is their primary, and in some cases, their sole focus after releasing from prison. They are highly motivated and eager to begin working, and want to contribute to and support their families. However, the process of searching for jobs is extremely frustrating, since they have a genuine desire to work, they apply for and interview for positions, but then they either never receive a call-back or are rejected due to felony job restrictions.
Second chance employment is beneficial to both employers and formerly incarcerated individuals. Being given the opportunity of second chance employment is significant in reducing the likelihood of an individual returning to prison and it helps individuals stay in their families and communities where they can continue building positive social networks. Employers also gain enthusiastic, motivated, and persistent candidates that are begging to be tapped. Communities also benefit through the creation of a more inclusive workforce and a true second chance for the tens of millions of men and women with a criminal record.
This post is part of a series for Second Chance Month, which highlights the need to improve re-entry for citizens returning to society and reduce recidivism. One of the primary ways to do this is by providing an opportunity for gainful employment. To sign the pledge and access the toolkit with information on how to create second chances at your company, visit GettingTalentBacktoWork.org.