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Navigating the Paradox: Second Chance Month vs. Fair Chance Hiring

Please note: This blog originally appeared on JustLeadershipUSA’s blog here, where Ashley is a member of the 2024 Leading with Conviction cohort.

April marks Second Chance Month, a time dedicated to recognizing the successes of individuals reentering society after incarceration; but also a month of reflection on the challenges and lifelong barriers faced by justice-impacted individuals. However, amidst the celebration of second chances, there lies a paradox: the glaring roadblock of fair chance hiring that continues to hinder the prospects of those seeking to rebuild their lives post-incarceration.

The concept of Second Chance Month embodies the belief in redemption, forgiveness, and the opportunity for individuals to reintegrate into society. It acknowledges that individuals deserve a chance to rebuild their lives after paying their debt to society. However, the reality often starkly contrasts this optimistic narrative.

Employment and housing are the two biggest determinants on recidivism. Both of which are notoriously difficult for a justice-impacted individual to obtain. Fair chance hiring initiatives aim to provide opportunities for justice-impacted individuals by removing barriers to employment, such as the requirement to disclose criminal history on job applications. These initiatives have gained traction in recent years, with many companies committing to inclusive hiring practices. Yet, despite these efforts, justice-impacted individuals still face significant challenges in securing employment.

  • Stigma and Discrimination: Employers may harbor biases and preconceptions about the reliability and trustworthiness of these individuals, leading to their exclusion from consideration for job opportunities.
     
  • Limited Access to Resources: Many justice-impacted individuals lack access to essential resources, such as education, job training, and support services, which are crucial for successful reintegration into the workforce. Without adequate support, they may struggle to acquire the skills and qualifications necessary to compete for meaningful employment opportunities. (Reentry preparation should begin on day one of incarceration!)
     
  • Legal Barriers: Certain industries and occupations impose legal restrictions and bar access to critical occupational licensing that prevent individuals with criminal records from obtaining employment. These barriers continue to perpetuate a cycle of exclusion and marginalization, making it difficult for justice-impacted individuals to secure stable and meaningful employment.

However, there is a way to address the paradox of Second Chance Month amid ongoing challenges with fair chance hiring, and a multifaceted approach is necessary:

  • Education and Awareness: Increasing awareness about the barriers faced by justice-impacted individuals and challenging misconceptions surrounding criminal records is essential. Education can help employers understand the value of diversity and inclusion in the workforce, including the benefits of hiring individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Yes, you might say this is already being done, but has it been working? At the organization I work at, Breakthrough, we routinely bring employers in to act as coaches and mentors to our participants in our in-prison educational program “The Challenge.” I have seen with my own eyes the biases and hesitations be melted away when businesses step into the room with our people. Additionally, employers partnering and building relationships with the community-based organizations that support returning citizens can foster mutual understanding and collaboration in creating inclusive workplaces.
     
  • Policy Reform: Advocating for policy reforms that remove legal barriers to employment and promote fair chance hiring practices is crucial. This, of course, includes ban-the-box legislation, but also access to occupational licenses that can allow individuals to find not only living wage employment, but careers. Out here in Colorado, the Ex-Offenders Practice in Regulated Occupations has been introduced with the intent to reduce barriers to registration, certification, or licensing in state-regulated occupations for people with criminal convictions.
     
  • Support Services: Investing in support services such as job training, education, mental health resources, and reentry programs can empower justice-impacted individuals to overcome barriers to employment and achieve long-term success. These services should be accessible and tailored to the unique needs of each individual.

All of this being said above, at this stage, we are creating and giving out resources to employers on how to navigate Fair Chance Hiring, and developing toolkits for the justice-impacted population on how to navigate the job market upon their release. But, the reality is that we are still not addressing the systemic inequities that exist. When we are creating solutions to systemic problems, we don’t want to create for people — we need to create with people. Let’s also start to lift up the individuals with lived experience who can help create solutions to these problems.

So, while Second Chance Month serves as a reminder of the potential for redemption and transformation, it also highlights the persistent challenges faced by justice-impacted individuals in securing employment and rebuilding their lives. By addressing the paradox of Second Chance Month versus fair chance hiring, we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their past mistakes.

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