“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”—Theodore Roosevelt
The pride and dignity that come from an honest day’s work is something people of all economic levels can relate to. But for those individuals who were formerly incarcerated, getting a good job that pays a decent wage is significantly harder than most of us realize. In fact, the Prison Policy Initiative found that the formerly incarcerated have an unemployment rate of more than 27%.
Many jobs are unavailable to those with prison records or convictions, and the jobs that are available may be lower wage and lacking opportunities for advancement and financial stability. Many formerly incarcerated individuals are willing to work hard and perform well but are shut out of the chance to reach their full potential.
This doesn’t have to be the case because employers and business owners can open doors for formerly incarcerated individuals that have previously been shut. At The Way Back, we understand that obtaining stable employment is a pillar of building a new life, and since 2016 over 1,500 of our clients have achieved employment—our second-chance employers are a part of that success.
Those who have been incarcerated have paid their dues and shouldn’t be cut off from a brighter future because of their past. After all, incarceration doesn’t define a life, but a second chance can.
Obstacles to employment
Becoming financially stable is a foundational part of building a life, getting further education, and investing in the future. These are goals we all have, but the formerly incarcerated face many additional obstacles.
To name a few:
- The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general United States population.
- A large number of formerly incarcerated people are parents to minor children, especially women. The lack of good opportunities in employment negatively impacts them and their children as well. This vicious cycle of poverty and need can be a large contributor to generational poverty and incarceration.
- Some employers take advantage of the vulnerability of formerly incarcerated men and women and pay them less for performing the same job as those without records. Working conditions and treatment are often worse as well, according to Prison Policy. “Businesses have found a way to capitalize on the desperation of applicants with conviction histories and exploit the fact that these individuals have less bargaining power…. this results in lower overall wages and more harmful working conditions in certain industries.”
- Job opportunities that do exist are often in industries that do not offer room for career advancement or further education. With no ladder to climb and no road to walk on, a person can get stuck maintaining their same circumstances and be unable to advance financially or build a better future.
- Unemployment and the inability to advance financially are major contributing factors in recidivism (the tendency to repeat an offense or relapse into criminal behavior). With so many doors unnecessarily shut, it’s no wonder that those who have been previously incarcerated are tempted to despair.
We can change this through second-chance hiring. Business owners and employers can create more opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals to become employed and make the most of their second chance.
How second-chance hiring can make a difference
Employers can have a positive impact on the high unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated individuals. A few ways to do this include:
- Partner with knowledgeable organizations like The Way Back to create employment opportunities and open doors for formerly incarcerated men and women.
- Adopt open hiring policies (also known as second-chance hiring). Second-chance hiring is the act of employing formerly incarcerated individuals, people in recovery, or other applicants whose life choices and situations have disadvantaged them in obtaining stable employment.
- Establish a mentoring program. This can be an excellent way to quickly integrate a new employee into your company and workforce and can make the transition easier for someone who is working to establish a new normal after life in prison.
Second-chance employers are eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), a federal income tax benefit administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for employers who hire individuals from specified target populations, including those convicted of a felony.
Many second-chance employers have been pleased with the results of hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. According to Richard Bronson, CEO of 70 Million Jobs, “82 percent of hiring managers said the quality of those candidates is as good as, if not better than, someone without a criminal record.”
He went on to say, “It turns out this group of people does incredibly well. Retention especially is really where the game is won. This population knows they have fewer options so they work harder and if they find themselves in a relatively good situation, they will do everything they can to stay where they are."
The individuals who are walking the path to reentry are extremely motivated to work hard, perform well, and learn quickly—and they should be given every opportunity to do so. As a community we can work together to make that happen.
At The Way Back, we work closely with our employment partners to develop and maintain strong relationships so that we can ensure a suitable placement for both the employer and participant.