By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Every human being possesses a talent, something we can contribute to the overall well-being of humanity. Yet, the U.S. Department of Justice statistics show there are 70 million Americans, who despite their talents, are hindered from contributing in a positive and progressive way due to being labeled a “felon” or having a criminal record.
Studies indicate that by 2030, 100 million – one in three working-age adults – will have been convicted of a crime. The data show that these Americans are more likely to be people of color, and yet numerous policies and practices, including mandatory background checks, consistently deny employment opportunities to individuals with conviction histories even after they have been offered a job.
In an effort to change the mindset and workplace policies to be more empathetic to people with criminal backgrounds, JP Morgan Chase has partnered with The Prosperity Agenda, a non-profit organization that helps design effective and pragmatic solutions to financial stresses families and communities may be experiencing, and What’s Next Washington, an organization of formerly incarcerated individuals and allies working to improve the ability of people with conviction histories to reintegrate into society and achieve long-term economic stability, to launch The Inclusive Recovery Project – a collaboration promoting diversity & equity, equipping businesses with a toolkit to help employ people with conviction histories.
This novel collaboration is designed to enable prosperity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for those disproportionately burden with background check issues: people of color and people enduring economic inequality.
“The exciting part about this is working with these organizations,” says Cat Martin, Corporate Responsibility Program Officer for JPMorgan Chase.
“They [The Prosperity Agenda] had started working on a program called Impact which was working with local employers to build better practices and to create a sense of belonging with their ongoing employees who’ve had experiences with judicial system,” continued Martin. “Then we heard about a great initiative with What’s Next Washington, who launched this initiative to match formerly incarcerated talent with employers who are trying to advance diversity, inclusion and to break barriers in hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds.”
According to Susan Mason, Executive Director of What’s Next Washington, ignoring the talent pool represented by people with criminal backgrounds is bad for the economy and addressing mass incarceration and the affect it has had on our communities is right thing to do.
“Nobody should be sentenced to a life of unemployment,” says Mason. “If you have committed a crime and your punishment is x, even with just a fine and probation you still can be denied employment and if you went to jail or prison this could lag on for literally decades.”
“Continuing to ignore this population is not only immoral, it’s bad for our economy and bad for our communities,” added Mason. “We can’t have racial equity without addressing mass incarceration and policies that exclude people with conviction histories.”
JP Morgan Chase has provided $300,000 of initial funding toward the two-year project. As part of the project, T-Mobile, Node Eco, Green Canopy, and GAF Materials Corp. will pilot hiring, recruitment and retention tools developed by What’s Next Washington and The Prosperity Agenda.
“In the fall of 2019, JP Morgan Chase launched its Policy Institute leading with our Second Chance Initiative that included three components, Public Policy, Second Chance Hiring and Community Investment,” says Martin. “This $300,000 grant that we made with Prosperity Agenda and What’s Next Washington is to use both of their skills and collaborate and bring their two programs together along with working with four businesses and to build this ‘toolkit’ for onboarding and creating better success for the employee as well as the employer to increase hiring for second chance individuals.
Don Bunnell, co-founder and CRO at Node Eco, agrees and says participating in this project supports equity, which is core to his company’s mission around sustainable housing for all income levels.
“To us, ‘equity’ includes giving people a chance—especially those who have not had the opportunities many of us take for granted,” Bunnell said. “Life is hard enough. Having a conviction history and trying to find work is really tough. With What’s Next Washington’s help, we can become a true second-chance employer, and give these folks the opportunity they deserve.”
According to organizers, the programs are designed to cement a positive and growth potential experience between employer and employee. Prosperity Agenda provides an avenue in helping companies set-up an inclusive and empathetic environment to help employees with criminal backgrounds realize their visions.
Holli Martinez, Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion at T-Mobile, said her company welcomes the opportunity to partner on strengthening T-Mobile’s commitment and helping others achieve their goals.
“As part of T-Mobile’s longstanding commitment to drive greater workplace diversity, we are thrilled to help What’s Next Washington build tools that empower other organizations to do the same,” Martinez said. “Embracing this pool of untapped talent and ensuring processes are in place to support and enable their advancement is a critical step towards building a stronger, more equitable workforce.”
“We partner with organizations to do direct work and so our relationship with What’s Next Washington as an organization that is completely staffed with people with conviction histories is to really realize their vision of quality jobs for those individuals and the community,” says Racheal Brooks, Managing Directing at The Prosperity Agenda. “We are co-leading this project with What’s Next Washington to work with employers to be able to change the way that they are hiring and retaining and supporting the development of people with conviction histories.”
Mason believes that a person’s past mistakes should not be a reason to deny them the opportunity to meet their basic needs like housing, employment and education.
“There is an expiration date on the milk in someone’s frig, but there isn’t one on a conviction,” says Mason. “The solution is educating employers about hiring from incarcerated talented or people with conviction histories. There is a ton of data that says this talent pool is loyal, possess high retention rates, driven to perform, they get promoted faster, so education is key and then provide tools to operationalize the policy.”
To learn more about The Inclusive Recovery Project, visit https://www.whatsnextwashington.org/partnering-for-an-inclusive-workforce.