April is Second Chance Month in the United States. This is a nationwide effort to drive awareness of the significant barriers faced by those with criminal convictions when it comes to employment, housing and education.
Attentions also turn to ongoing efforts aimed at breaking down these barriers—including those being undertaken by businesses through hiring, legislative advocacy and more.
There are many reasons for corporate engagement on this issue. U.S. employers are currently looking to fill 10 million-plus vacant positions, and there are 70 million (one in three) American adults with some form of criminal or arrest record. Helping them find jobs will allow companies to tap into a vast, diverse and underutilized talent pool.
Considering the disproportionate impact that the justice system has on people of color, companies can help honor their commitments to racial equity by addressing the economic disenfranchisement faced by this group.
Access to gainful employment is one of the key determinants on whether an individual will reoffend, so by increasing this access, businesses can prevent crime and make their communities safer - while at the same time reducing the tax burdens presented by incarceration, policing and government support.
Finally, 85% of HR leaders say that justice-impacted hires perform the same or better than other employees, with better retention and lower turnover rates (resulting in recruitment savings).
What Employees Can Do
After the why comes the how.
Perhaps the most straightforward step for employers to help is through hiring. This involves amending their application and interview processes to consider justice-impacted individuals more effectively. A key first step in this process is “banning the box” and refraining from asking whether an applicant has a criminal record until a conditional offer is made.
Many have gone further to make Second Chance hiring (SCH) a part of their corporate culture, through the establishment of mentorship programs and by providing training and work support. Household names such as JPMorgan, Walmart, and Home Depot have all adopted SCH programs and seen the benefits.
A perhaps less obvious, but no less significant, measure is corporate advocacy. Many businesses have recognized that more fundamental, systemic change is required, and are leveraging their influence to drive reform.
Such examples include Clean Slate legislation, which seals eligible records after a certain period. Sealing irrelevant and old records from employers helps prevent individuals from being unnecessarily locked out of the job market. As MOD Pizza CEO Scott Svenson writes, “Dismantling unnecessary employment barriers for deserving and hardworking people is just fiscal common-sense.”
Clean Slate has already been passed in 10 states, and is currently gaining bipartisan momentum in Texas, Missouri, Illinois and more—with strong business backing.
In Colorado, for example, more than 30 businesses came together last year to show their support for automatic record-sealing through articles, press commentary, events, statements, social media posts and public testimony. Gov. Jared Polis signed the Colorado Clean Slate Act into law on June 1, 2022, granting relief to more than 1 million people across the state.
There is no constituency more important to lawmakers than employers and investors. By speaking out at the right moment, they can be instrumental in driving campaigns over the line. Businesses also play a crucial role in normalizing political stances; six in ten people believe that once companies start addressing an issue, real change follows. By publicly supporting legislation efforts, employers can encourage lawmakers to prioritize these issues.
The key to successful engagement in this area is partnership. By collaborating with community-based organizations who work to help justice-impacted people week-in, week-out, employers can grow pipelines of talent, and make sure that recruits have the wraparound support they need to thrive.
By partnering with campaigners on the front lines of reform movements, communicators can make sure they are using their voice in the right place, at the right time— and thus deliver maximum impact.
They can advise on the most valuable publications and platforms to amplify business voices through, with a view to reaching key lawmakers. Furthermore, these partnerships can give business proximity and understanding of these issues, and in particular the communities affected, which will in turn help them speak with authenticity and credibility. It will also help them avoid many communications missteps.
Removing Workforce Barriers
The movement is growing. Like-minded U.S. employers came together last year to form the Workforce & Justice Alliance, a purpose-built coalition to help deliver criminal justice reform across the country.
According to recent polling, more than 80% of small businesses now support Clean Slate legislation. It is easy to see why.
Studies in Michigan have already shown widespread benefits, including higher employment rates, increased wages and lower recidivism rates. By intentionally partnering with the right organizations, guided by purpose-built organizations like the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, companies can help themselves and their communities by dismantling the unnecessary workforce barriers created by the U.S. justice system.
Ben Cumming is Chief Communications Officer at Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ).