Council of State Governments helps lower employment barriers

The Council of State Governments inspired the Greenville, S.C., Chamber of Commerce to hold the Corporate Leader Engagement Breakfast to discuss the barriers to hiring people with criminal records.

The Council of State Governments inspired Greenville, S.C., Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Leader Engagement Breakfast in which business leaders and others came together to discuss the barriers to hiring people with criminal records.

To get returning citizens back to work and help reduce recidivism is a monumental task, an effort that takes an entire community to tackle.

Representatives from the public and private sectors ranging from corrections to corporations need to work together to change policies, procedures and, most importantly, attitudes.

And that is beginning to happen in cities across the nation, thanks to the nonprofit The Council of State Governments’ Pathways to Prosperity initiative.

The initiative, part of the National Reentry Resource Center of the CSG Justice Center, seeks to provide a policy and practice framework for states to better address workforce needs and to equip citizens with the skills, knowledge and qualifications needed for the 21st century global economy.

It does this by inspiring other organizations to hold events that bring people together to make change in the hiring arena and eradicate the employment barriers that exist for formerly incarcerated individuals.

CSG’s effort was launched last summer at the White House and has continued across the nation with a series of events including, most recently, in Greenville, S.C.; Detroit; and Atlanta.

In May, the Greenville, S.C., Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Corporate Leader Engagement Breakfast attended by 30 employers, as well as community leaders, policymakers and corrections officials. They met to discuss the barriers to hiring people with criminal records and determine the best way to overcome them.

“Employers are looking to hire folks who are loyal, drug free and produce quality work,” said Robyn Knox, planning director at Southern Weaving Company, a Greenville business that hires people with criminal records, and one of the speakers at the event.

“We would not be in business today if these folks were not good workers,” said Knox, who went on to note that criminal records don’t affect staff retention. There is “no statistical difference in turnover,” she said, between her company’s employees who have records and its employees who don’t.

In Detroit, another event with a similar purpose was held during the same month, hosted in that city by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with support from the Detroit Public Safety Foundation.

Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, gave the keynote address, urging businesses to adopt “ban the box” policies.

The author and activist cited Tim Hortons, Home Depot, and Target as examples of companies that have adopted fair hiring policies. By providing job opportunities for people with criminal records, she said, “these companies are not just banning the box, they are making a serious effort to reshape the reentry landscape moving forward.”

Meanwhile, the Southern Regional Summit on Fair Hiring, which took place on May 18 in Atlanta, brought together more than 100 policymakers, business representatives and community service providers from seven southern states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – to discuss creating employment opportunities for adults with criminal records.

The event was hosted by the National H.I.R.E. Network of the Legal Action Center, with support from the National Reentry Resource Center.

These events are part of the growing conversation across the country between business leaders and policymakers who are working to improve employment outcomes for individuals with criminal records.

It can be a win-win situation, with returning citizens eager to enter the job market and employers gaining access to a frequently overlooked talent pool in a tightening job market.

To learn how you can hold a similar event in your area contact the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments.

 

Council of State Governments creates Pathways to Prosperity

The Pathways to Prosperity event in Atlanta last year attracted a large crowd of corporate executives, judges, workforce development officials and correctional officials, among others.

The Atlanta Pathways to Prosperity event held late last year attracted a large crowd of corporate executives, workforce development officials and correctional officials, among others.

The attitude of employers is often the biggest obstacle to employment for those with criminal records. It’s almost like hitting the proverbial brick wall.

But the Council of State Governments is out to change those entrenched attitudes. This nonprofit organization works with local, state and federal policymakers to strengthen communities and increase public safety and has created the Pathways to Prosperity initiative.

The initiative, part of the National Reentry Resource Center of the organization’s Justice Center, seeks to provide a policy and practice framework for states to better address workforce needs and to equip citizens with the skills, knowledge and qualifications needed for the 21st century global economy.

And part of this initiative is inspiring cities around the nation to find ways that the public and private sectors can work together to provide employment opportunities to people with criminal records.

Launched last summer at the White House, the initial event, moderated by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, included state-level policymakers, leaders from the corrections and workforce development field, nonprofit leaders, government officials and business executives from companies such as Home Depot, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, and Tim Hortons, Inc. It was virtually attended by more than 1,650 corrections, reentry and labor professionals from 41 states.

That original event has sparked others. So far they’ve taken place in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Indianapolis, Memphis and Los Angeles. Organized by various entities, usually a chamber of commerce or a nonprofit organization, these events have included a variety of attendees.

“There’s a mix of different stakeholders,” says Phoebe Potter, director of the Justice Center’s behavioral health program. “Businesses are our primary stakeholders, but we’re also encouraging local and state officials, core policymakers at the state and local level, corrections officials, workforce development professionals and other providers to become involved.”

Each event is different, depending on the place and the goals of the sponsoring organization. Here are the details of the past gatherings:

  • Los Angeles: This February event, sponsored by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, was held at the Men’s Central Jail, the first of these gatherings to take place in a correctional institution. It brought business leaders together with correction officials.
  • Memphis: Organized by the CSG’s National Reentry Resource Center and Memphis Tomorrow, this closed-door event held in January served as a preliminary dialogue among a group that included business executives, Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, Jr., among other state and local leaders.
  • Indianapolis: Sponsored by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the Marion County Reentry Coalition, the December event drew attendees to the city’s Ironworker’s Union Hall. A city-county council member, the deputy director of the city’s Department of Public Safety and executives from local businesses addressed the group.
  • Atlanta: Business leaders from companies like Home Depot, judges, workforce development officials, correctional officials and others attended this large-scale gathering in November.
  • Washington, D.C.: DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, corporate executives and officials from the EEOC and DC Office on Returning Citizens Affairs were among the speakers at the September event, which was sponsored by the Council for Court Justice,

What does The Council on State Governments hope these events will achieve?

“Our initial ask was just to talk, to start a dialogue. We felt that what was missing was a chance to help break down some of the stigma, the concerns about this population,” said Potter. “We really want to think about solutions that are collaborative – that businesses can get behind.”

To learn how you can hold a similar event in your area contact the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments.