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July 24, 2023

Employers, Congress Advocate for Second-Chance Hiring

Credit: SHRM

At a time when employers are scrambling to fill thousands of open positions, Congress has formed the Bipartisan Second Chance Task Force to help returning citizens obtain employment, housing and health care to rebuild their lives, said Rep. David Trone, D-Md., co-founder of the task force.

Congressional members from both sides of the aisle have introduced second-chance hiring bills to support second-chance employment. Trone; Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla.; Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.; and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., formed the task force with the “goal of introducing more second-chance legislation in Congress and partnering with the private sector to bring attention to this growing problem,” Trone said.

“Unfortunately, not enough businesses know about the benefits of hiring returning citizens,” he said. “As someone who ‘banned the box‘ and hired over 1,400 returning citizens when I was CEO of my company, I know these folks deserve a real second chance—and that’s what our task force aims to do.”

Trone said the task force has introduced bills including:

  • The Fresh Start Act, which would streamline the sealing of eligible arrest records for returning citizens who have not committed a felony or additional crimes. 
  • The Workforce Justice Act, which encourages states to “ban the box,” or not request applicants’ criminal history, on job applications nationwide.
  • The Due Process Continuity of Care Act, which amends the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy to allow coverage for all pretrial detainees.

“We hope to pass meaningful criminal justice reform that’s centered around improving re-entry outcomes for returning citizens,” Trone said. “All of these bills are focused on ensuring justice is upheld and that second chances are given—and I won’t rest until they’re signed into law.” 

Trone noted that no outside businesses have played a role in forming the task force; however, the representatives have worked with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon on why businesses should hire more formerly incarcerated individuals.

In May, “we had the opportunity to host Mr. Dimon and discuss his efforts at JPMorgan to hire more justice-impacted individuals,” Trone said. “We hope to continue working with business owners and leaders to create an open and honest dialogue about the importance of hiring returning citizens.”  

Additionally, the White House has announced a plan to invest nearly $1 billion in job training, recovery, and re-entry services that calls on Congress to invest $15 billion more in similar services to help people rebuild their lives after incarceration.

Businesses Join the Effort

RecruitBot, a San Francisco-based company that supplies HR professionals with an AI recruitment tool, supports lobbying Congress to pass second-chance hiring laws to grow an inclusive workforce without lowering standards or compromising the integrity of the hiring process.

“Supporting second-chance hiring initiatives is important for promoting fairness, reducing recidivism and expanding diversity in the workforce,” said Jeremy Schiff, CEO of RecruitBot. “By actively lobbying for [second-chance hiring] initiatives, businesses can tap into a valuable talent pool, enhance their brand reputation and contribute to building a more inclusive society.”

[Certificate program from the SHRM Foundation: Getting Talent Back to Work]

One business for whom inclusive hiring is particularly important is MOD Pizza, a fast-casual pizza brand headquartered in Seattle. MOD Pizza founded the Workforce and Justice Alliance, a coalition of businesses that help deliver criminal justice reform across the U.S.

MOD Pizza has also supports lobbying Congress to pass second-chance hiring laws.

“By opening our doors—and our minds—we believe we can make an impact and be part of a solution to some of the challenges facing our society today,” said Robin Hamm, the vice president of social impact at MOD Pizza. “Through the power of our voice, we’re speaking up with others to advocate for change. At MOD, we’ve always believed that business can and should be a force for good in the lives of the people we employ and the communities we serve.”

Clearing Paths to Employment

State lawmakers have also introduced bills in support of second-chance hiring. The H888 bill in Georgia, for example, “eliminates the system of suspending a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay a fine or penalty, or failure to appear at court.”

“Justice-impacted individuals go through a vicious cycle that happens on a big level,” said Awesta Sarkash, public policy director of Small Business Majority (SBM). “If someone needs a car to go to work, then they need a valid driver’s license. Our workforce will be positively impacted if we give them the resources and tools to reshape their lives.”
The SBM educates small business leaders on how to hire justice-impacted individuals and encourages them to advocate for second-chance hiring initiatives, Sarkash said.

Some businesses partner with community-based organizations to prepare formerly incarcerated job candidates to rejoin the workforce for long-term employment.

Persevere, a Memphis-based nonprofit that works to end mass incarceration, sets up interviews with potential organizations and program participants. Its programs develop untapped talent dedicated to forging career paths, said Anthony Glover, employment coordinator at Persevere.

Persevere has served over 400 graduates, with a recidivism rate of 1.8 percent, he said.

“Our mission is to disrupt the cycle of incarceration,” Glover said.

To set up returning citizens with employment opportunities, Glover talks with business leaders to let them know there’s a qualified, overlooked population that has been shut out of the hiring process because of their criminal record.

“I try to change what the face of incarceration looks like,” Glover said. “I let [companies] know that [justice-impacted individuals] are not like the criminals in the movies or on TV.”