Fedcap Solution Series Brings Employers and Ex-Offenders to the Table
What every business should know about
employing people with conviction histories
Fedcap convened more than 140 representatives of business, government, nonprofits and the formerly incarcerated on May 31 in a frank and dynamic dialogue about the role of employment – and employers – in reducing recidivism.
The many challenges surrounding jobs after prison were on the table. Topics ranged from the need to make former prisoners more attractive to employers to the limitations on in-prison vocational and soft-skills training. A major issue was the pressures on business to hire from this population in the face of financial, legal and reputational risks related to discrimination and negligent hiring.
The United States has five percent of the world's population but 23 percent of the world's prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people are released from state and federal prisons each year — a great many of whom will likely be rearrested within three years. A job is clearly one key to successful reentry, but a conviction history remains an intractable barrier to employment.
The expert panel of the May 31 Fedcap Solution Series event, What every business should know about employing people with conviction histories, included Amy Solomon, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice and Co-Chair, Federal Interagency Reentry Council Staff Working Group; Alphonso David, Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights for New York State, whose work covers all civil rights/discrimination issues and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Work for Success program on employment for the formerly incarcerated; Esta R. Bigler, Director, Labor and Employment Law Programs, Cornell University ILR School, and Fernando Santiago, Fedcap Building Manager at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, who shared his personal story of success after prison.
“This issue requires an integrated approach among government, the private sector and the not-for-profit community,” said Christine McMahon, President and CEO of Fedcap. “People who have been previously incarcerated must become functioning, contributing members of our society and this involves stable employment.
“At times, businesses are criticized for not giving former prisoners a chance,” she continued, “but we can’t expect business to take on this challenge alone, without support at the legislative, regulatory and community levels.”
“This is about giving people who have paid their debt to society what they are entitled to have,” said Bigler.
Contrary to a prevalent myth that feeds employer concerns, panelists noted a dearth of lawsuits or workplace problems connected to employees with criminal backgrounds. Solomon pointed out that only one percent of the 47,000 federal fidelity insurance bonds ever issued have been redeemed. These bonds are available to indemnify employers for loss of money or property sustained through the dishonest acts of at-risk job seekers, including ex-offenders.
“The formerly incarcerated have a higher work ethic than recent college graduates,” said audience member Virgil Fisher, CEO of WeRecycle!, which makes a point of hiring former prisoners for its e-waste disposal business.
However, “many [prison] vocational programs are not aligned with the job opportunities in the real world,” said David, adding that Cuomo's Work for Success program will address this issue.
Santiago found his in-prison training to be much less helpful to his success on the outside than his strong family relationships and his personal motivation. “I came home with a plan to be successful, to not go back,” he said.
Businesses want to leverage the full potential talent pool, but risk-management is a major concern, said Mary Wright, Associate Director of The Conference Board, the business membership and research association. She raised the question of how companies’ risks in hiring former prisoners might be mitigated by or spread among the government and/or others.
Spreading the risks of hiring the formerly incarcerated is at the heart of a new research effort among Fedcap, The Conference Board and Cornell ILR that was announced at the May 31 event. Click here to read more.
Read the panel bios here.