by Bill Biermann
Transforming Lives from the Ground Up
Businesses talked about the benefits of hiring people with criminal records and the government obstacles to doing so during a roundtable hosted by the White House.
By Leigh Buchanan Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine.
As the labor market tightens in our expanding economy, companies will need workers. And people returning to society from prison need jobs. Keeping potential employers and employees apart is fear, lack of understanding, and about 20,000 statutes and regulations across the country that restrict the hiring of ex-offenders.
Businesses and governments want to change that. Yesterday, the White House hosted a roundtable comprising executives from such companies as Uber, Home Depot, and Johns Hopkins Health System, as well as officials like governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Matt Bevin of Kentucky, to discuss the challenges and benefits of hiring the group of people now referred to as formerly incarcerated.
Crime has been in decades-long decline, but roughly 70 million adults in this country have criminal records; and more than 10 million return to their communities from incarceration each year. For this group, more jobs equals lower recidivism equals better lives. Yet fresh starts are curtailed by cultural bias, skills deficits, and myriad regulatory barriers. Among the most common: state rules that deny professional licenses to people with criminal histories.
Roundtable participants said they would like to see such rules eased or eliminated. They also want more collaboration between governments and businesses to create pathways from incarceration to employment (primarily for nonviolent offenders). The idea of creating more job-training programs inside prisons was discussed. So was raising the profile of the Department of Labor's 52-year-old federal bonding program, which guarantees for six months the honesty of hard-to-place job candidates, including people with criminal records.
The smallest business at the table was also the most experienced. For more than 30 years, Greyston Bakery, based in Yonkers, New York, has practiced "open hiring"--filling available positions with anyone who wants them, no questions asked. The $20 million company has employed thousands of ex-offenders. Around 65 percent of the current workforce has been incarcerated.