Humboldt County (Calif.) works with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation on Humboldt Second Chance Program

Humboldt Second ChanceIn the far northern reaches of California, in a rural coastal area known for its redwood forests, local county officials are working with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation to help formerly incarcerated individuals get jobs.

Taking advantage of a $400,000 grant from the state’s Workforce Development Board, Humboldt County has launched the Humboldt Second Chance Program (H2CP).

The Employment Training Division of the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services operates the program, and here’s how it works.

Set up as a series of seven-member cohorts, Humboldt Second Chance trains each cohort for specific types of jobs. Participants are referred from the probation office and after a screening and assessment go through a two-week training focusing on work readiness and expectations.

“We have a lot of younger folks now who may have never even worked. We’re trying to help them understand the rules of the game,” says Connie Lorenzo, employment training division program manager.

“Sometimes they don’t understand how to apply for a job or what’s expected in a job. We also get into time management and conflict management, as well as some of the things they might have issues with, like how to accept authority.”

Program includes two months of vocational training

The next step is vocational training, which lasts for two months. Participants work 25 hours per week, and their salaries are fully funded by the program. Most of the people are trained in construction, but some are doing office work, medical assisting and one has done horticultural training.

That’s as far as program participants have gotten so far, but one group is ready to move on.

“We have 13 people who will graduate out of the vocational training and work experience,” Lorenzo says “The next phase is to get them hired into a permanent position. We have staff willing to help with the job development and placing them, and we will pay 50 percent of their wage for the first four to six months.

Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation works with employers

Now that the Humboldt Second Chance Program has begun to train potential employees, what about the employers? And that’s where Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation comes in.

“The unique thing we did in Humboldt was because we only have 105,000 people and not a lot of industry, we had to recruit multiple employers to the program. We focused our grant not only on the ex-offenders but on employers as well,” says Lorenzo

In January her department held an employer event with a representative of Dave’s Killer Bread to educate employers on second chance employment.

It recruited 12 businesses that day and eight more since then. Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation will work directly with employers as a consultant offering one-on-one support to companies that want to hire people from the second chance program, according to Lorenzo.

“At the event we took the info we use in our summits and our work and showed them how it’s possible to make this (hiring previously incarcerated individuals) work,” says Genevieve Martin, executive director of the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation. “It’s a great pipeline of candidates to look at.”

The foundation is now following up with those employers to see what kind of opportunities they have and to point them toward potential candidates.

This is the first time that DKB Foundation has done anything quite like this, but Martin hopes it won’t be the last.

“We’ve worked with other organizations before, but this is the first time we’ve partnered on a grant to deliver programs with strategic initiatives to the host organization,” Martin says. “Being able to partner with (an organization with) a more local approach is exciting, because that’s where we can make a difference.”

Plan to train 72 people

And Martin has her work cut out for her. Lorenzo says that the grant stated that they hope to train 72 people and get at least 45 of those employed full time. She says, however, they’re on target with between 40 and 50 people referred by probation thus far and is convinced they’ll succeed.

Although Lorenzo, in her position with Humboldt County, serves a lot of different types of clients, she’s especially impressed with those coming out of prison

“One thing I’ve found is that when ex-offenders are ready to transition their lives, they’re a very strong population to work with,” she says.


Dave’s Killer Bread helps create second chance employers

Dave's Killer BreadHow does one become a second chance employer, and why aren’t more companies doing it? Maybe they don’t know how.

But there’s a new way to learn the ropes. One company that knows very well, Dave’s Killer Bread, has increased its efforts to encourage more employers to embrace second chance employment.

And the company is doing that through its Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, the nonprofit arm that the Milwaukee, Ore.,-based organic bread maker launched early last year. The foundation is creating a variety of programs, including more Second Chance Summits and a Second Chance Playbook, as well as a Second Chance Network to be launched in the future.

The reason for the foundation?

“It’s the formalization of the work we’ve been doing as a company over the past decade in hiring people with criminal backgrounds,” says Genevieve Martin, the foundation’s director.

“What we learned in talking to our partners and nonprofits and government agencies is that there aren’t enough employers who will look at this part of the workforce, and we decided to be leaders in expanding employment opportunities for people with criminal backgrounds.” And the foundation is in the process of putting together more programs to do this.

First Second Chance Summit on East Coast

Although it has held two Second Chance Summits in Portland, the DKB Foundation will host its first 2016 Second Chance Summit East at The New School in New York City on May 24.

The day’s events will include a keynote address by Glenn Martin, founder and president of Just Leadership USA, and a panel of second chance employers who will address the topic of debunking myths. Food will be prepared by the Snow Day Food Truck operated by Drive Change.

The goal is to bring together like-minded employers who can work together to bring about change. “We didn’t want to confine ourselves to speaking only our story the Dave’s Killer bread way. Our way won’t work for everyone. The foundation is collaborative,” Martin says.

Playbook teaches companies how to be second chance employers

The Second Chance Playbook, which launched this month, is a collection of videos on a variety of topics educating companies on issues related to second chance employment. They’re each three to five minutes long, something that employers can watch during their lunch or coffee breaks, according to Martin.

The videos include interviews with subject matter experts, including h.r. professionals in organizations that hire people with criminal backgrounds, an insurance broker speaking about risk mitigation, and people talking about federal incentives that companies can take advantage of, EEOC compliance and background checks, among other subjects.

The Playbook has launched with 10 videos on the foundation’s website and is available to anyone free of charge. All one has to do is register.

Second Chance Network will bring employers together

Another initiative, the Second Chance Network, is coming soon and will have three layers.

“One will be second chance employers who are interested in mentoring other organizations and are fine in being a mouthpiece. They’re the true champions,” said Martin.

“Another layer is going to highlight re-entry hubs (around the nation) that can supply resources, and the third layer that we’re paying the most attention to is speaking with employers to encourage them to look at programs and staffing networks through which they can recruit from directly.”

The foundation, which gets funding from Dave’s Killer Bread company as well as private donors, is dedicated to being an agent of change.

“What’s most important for people to understand is that business has the power to affect true change right now. We don’t have to wait for legislation or nonprofits to get more funding,” says Martin. “A business can decide tomorrow that they will hire one person, and that will make a huge impact and ripple across the country.”


Drive Change food truck biz trains formerly incarcerated youth


Drive Change members celebrate their selection for the People’s Choice Award and the Vendy Cup at the 2015 Vendy Awards, New York City’s highest honor for mobile vendors.

While the food business often serves up employment opportunities for those in reentry, Drive Change takes the idea one step further.

The New York City nonprofit’s Snow Day food truck sells an interesting menu of maple syrup-themed cuisine with a side of social justice, while at the same time helping formerly incarcerated young people get the training and work experience they so desperately need.

The organization was the inspiration of Jordyn Lexton, who taught at the public high school on New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island prison complex, in which 16-year-olds are considered adults.

“When I found myself on Riker’s Island I was completely blown away by how truly abusive the conditions are,” she says. “My students were leaving with felony convictions rather than juvenile adjudications. When leaving they were met by dead ends, and way too many of my students under different circumstances would have lived crime free.”

Post Riker release opportunities

While at Rikers, Lexton was thinking of business opportunities that could help young Rikers inmates after they’re released.

“There was a culinary arts class on Rikers, and it was one of the only classes where they were happy,” she says. “My own passion for eating, mixed with the realization that the food industry could provide employment and teaching, was where the idea came from.”

Food trucks seemed the best option for her business, because they can provide human connections and raise awareness of injustice inside the system better than restaurants can, she says.

So Lexton spent a year working on a taco truck and researched other food businesses on the side. By the spring of 2014, her organization was up and running and had launched Snowday, its first food truck. Snowday prepares cuisine using ingredients sourced from farms in New York City and beyond.

It caters events and posts its weekly schedule on Twitter. Drive Change also uses the truck as a tool to raise awareness about injustice within the prison system. On days when there’s a rally about reform at Rikers, for example, the organization seeks funding from donors to cover the cost of getting the truck to the event to serve food.

Funding for Drive Change

The money to buy Snowday came from a June 2013 fundraiser at an art gallery that raised about $45,000 from 300 attendees. Those who came promoted the indiegogo campaign that began the next day to their social media circles. That campaign raised another $24,000.

Lexton had built up a large network herself, thanks to her experience in the food truck industry and with criminal justice organizations. She reached out to them, as well as family and friends, to establish an individual giving platform and began to apply for foundation grants.

Snow Day began operations in April 2014, and Drive Change received its first two substantial foundation grants in the fall of 2014. These allowed it to build a kitchen training classroom originally located at the Center for Social Innovation but now in the historic former Pfizer building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Employees must be between 16 and 25 years of age and treated as an adult in the criminal justice system. Referrals come from other organizations and reentry services. Drive Change received 66 referrals for eight open positions this past spring.

Applicants fill out an application, which Lexton says is a bit challenging and includes an essay. Of the 66 people who were originally referred only 30 completed the application.

Another requirement is that people have stable housing. “It can be a shelter or transitional housing, but knowing where someone is sleeping every night is important for employment,” Lexton says.

When people first hire on, they go through a five-week training period to receive food safety and New York Food Handlers certifications. During training, employees are paid minimum wage but upon graduation begin at $11 per hour.

During the next four to six months, Drive Change employees work in both the prep kitchen and on the truck. They also take classes in social media, marketing, hospitality, money management and small business development to prepare them for future employment or to create businesses of their own.

Although Drive Change is a nonprofit, it’s structured to own a profit LLC. The food truck is a third of its overall operating budget and is close to covering its own costs, according to Lexton.

Model for growth

The organization’s original goal was to operate a fleet of food trucks, but it has developed a different model for growth.

It plans to build a garage, a sort of food truck commissary, where other food truck operators can park their trucks, store goods, buy products and provide facilities for their employees to change clothes. Owners who park their trucks in the garage will be required to hire Drive Change employees. Lexton’s vision is to work with 120 people on 10 to 15 trucks.

And she doesn’t think that will be a problem for several reasons. The fact that New York City food trucks often have trouble finding a space for overnight parking is one of them.

“We’ve figured out by investing in this space, we can actually benefit the businesses of other food trucks in New York City. It will make their operations more efficient, lower their costs on goods and amenities and be good for their bottom line,” she says. ‘They also get the privilege of hiring these young people. It’s very hard for food trucks to find licensed and credentialed employees.”

What Drive Change is doing must be working. On Sept. 12 it won two Vendy Awards, the Oscars of mobile vending for New York City. The organization was honored with the People’s Choice Award and the grand prize Vendy Cup.

“No other vendor in the 11 years of the award has been able to achieve that,” Lexton says.


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.


New guide helps manufacturers create apprenticeship programs

ApprenticeshipProgramManualCoverU.S. Manufacturers are facing a serious shortage of skilled workers. Many applicants just don’t seem to have the skills necessary to produce the increasingly sophisticated products that American factories are creating.

While some companies are teaming up with community colleges and other partners to create training and apprenticeship programs, there seems to be far too few of them

Three major corporations – Dow, Alcoa and Siemens – have decided to help solve the problem by joining forces to create a coalition to build regional apprenticeship models that bring together employers and community colleges.

And together with The Manufacturing Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, they’ve also published the Employer’s Playbook for Building an Apprenticeship Program to teach other companies how to do it themselves.

This 115-page book serves as a how-to guide that companies of any size can use to help build a workforce-ready talent pipeline in communities across the country.

Readers are taken step by step through the process of establishing an apprenticeship program. The nine chapters cover everything from workforce planning and establishing public-private partnerships to selecting apprenticeship program participants and transitioning apprentices into permanent employment.

The book includes an extensive array of templates, tools, project plans and worksheets and tons of tips and advice that are useful to any company that might be interested in creating an apprenticeship program of their own. There are also links to a wide range of other resources that include everything from the Department of Labor and the National Governor’s Association to the National Association of Workforce Boards.

The playbook will also serve as an important resource for manufacturers and their partners who are interested in the U.S. Department of Labor’s American Apprenticeship Grants competition that is now open for applications.

These grants – up to $100 million in total – will be given to public-private partnerships that will include a combination of manufacturers as well as community colleges, nonprofits, unions and training organizations. The grants are being financed by the fees that employers pay to hire foreign workers to come work in the U.S. under the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program.

The goals of the grant competition are to:

  • Expand apprenticeship programs into high growth industries and occupations, especially those for which foreign workers on H-1B visas are hired.
  • Use apprenticeships to create new career pathways.
  • Offer more apprenticeship opportunities to job seekers and workers, especially those from groups that are underrepresented in traditional apprenticeship programs.

And with all the new training programs that will result from these grants, more Americans – including hopefully some who were formerly incarcerated – will be claiming some of those jobs currently being held by H-1B workers. At least that appears to be the goal.


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.


The Next Step expands efforts to increase ex-offender job placement

Business HandshakeThe Next Step, Inc., a Lenexa, Kan.-based company that helps ex-offenders find employment and employers gain tax benefits for hiring them, is set to sign its first statewide contract with the state of Ohio this spring.

The company manages the CoFFE – Cooperative of Felon Friendly Employers – database, a nationwide network of employers who are willing to hire ex-offenders. It works with agencies and facilities that manage reentry for those leaving prisons.

“Fifty-percent of the Federal Bureau of Prison facilities enroll prisoners in The Next Step before their release,” says Julia Peterson, the company’s operations manager.

How it works: A felon being released from prison registers with The Next Step. They do it by locating the supervisory agency on the company’s website and filling out a form at

Those whose supervisory agency is not included on The Next Step’s website should have their case manager or parole or probation officer get in touch with the company.

Once registered, The Next Step matches that person with three ex-offender friendly employers based on the candidate’s geographical location and skill set and sends the list of those employers to the facility’s case manager. Rather than phone the potential employer, the candidate is urged to visit them and take a flyer explaining the Work Opportunity Tax Credit that companies will be able to obtain if they hire the ex-offender. Candidates can get free job leads for a year after their release.

If the candidate is not hired by one of the three leads provided, The Next Step will give their case manager three more leads. Once hired, The Next Step will contact the company that employs them, and through its sister company, WOTC Solutions, offer to help that company apply for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which is done for a fee and helps fund the system and keep it going. Employers must file the application for the WOTC within 28 days of the employee’s start date.

The WOTC can be of great benefit to employers and a good reason for why they might want to hire ex-offenders. This federal program offers employers an up to $2,400 tax credit if they hire a member of nine targeted groups of people, including ex-offenders, who encounter barriers to employment. Companies can get up to this amount for each qualified employee they hire.

While major corporations usually have a tax screening service in place, WOTC Solutions appeals to smaller businesses, according to Peterson. “The best luck we have is with the small and medium-sized businesses – people who run their own businesses and have five to 50 employees,” she says. “Those people have time to hear about it (the program) and are often the ones who are hiring people with a blemished past.“

The Next Step has thousands of employers, ranging from those hiring manual labor to those looking for white-collar office workers, in its database. Where the company has the most success, however, is with call centers, restaurants and construction companies, all businesses that experience high turnover. Staffing companies are also good candidates, says Peterson.

While the company works with correctional facilities around the nation, this spring it will sign a statewide contract with Ohio to handle all the facilities in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “This will give us a better example of how this works best, and we’ll have statistics and results to show others,” Peterson said.

She hopes more states will follow Ohio’s example, opening up more opportunities for ex-offenders to find good jobs and employers to find good workers.

To learn more, contact:


Free Minds Book Club opens doors for young ex-offenders

Michael, Lamarzs and Antwan create vision boards as they prepare for their post-release lives.

A unique Washington, D.C. nonprofit, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, not only inspires young inmates by engaging them through reading and writing. but helps them get their lives together and find employment after being released from prison.

For the past 10 years the organization has worked with youth who are prosecuted as adults in Washington D.C., of which there are about 65 each year.

“They’re in the DC Jail before they’ve been sentenced,” says Tara Libert, the organization’s co-founder and executive director. “Mostly it’s for armed robbery, carjacking, rape, anything involving a gun. They’re in the juvenile unit of the DC Jail. They could be there from a few months to a couple of years. The majority of our kids are there between six and nine months.”

After that they’re shipped out to federal prisons across the nation, since D.C. has no state prison. While in the DC Jail, however, almost all of them join the book club.

Although they’re 16 or 17 years old, on average they read at a fifth grade level, and most of them have never read a book in their lives. They’ve also, for the most part, dropped out of school or had no interest in learning.

Many of the teens’ parents have been absent from their lives, and they’ve raised themselves on the streets. Ninety-eight percent of the young men are black and 2 percent are Hispanic, and they’re locked up for an average of four to six years, between the DC Jail and federal prison.

Program goals

More than 250 youth participate in various aspects of the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop program each year. The program’s goal is to transform lives and help these young men envision their potential and create new educational, personal and career goals.

Free Minds staff members go into the DC Jail and ask new inmates if they’d like to be a member of the book club. Once they join, each new member receives a dictionary and a journal for writing poetry and essays.

Based on the belief that books and creative writing have the power to inspire individuals, to teach them, to build community and to change lives, the organization conducts weekly meetings in the DC Jail where members come together to discuss books that they have read.  The books, which have relevance to the lives they are leading, are chosen by a vote. Some of the writers of the books read by the club have attended meetings.

Once they’re transferred to federal prisons at age 18, Free Minds continues to support them by sending books, discussion questions and creative writing assignments. Staff members keep in touch with each member, encouraging them in their efforts and pairing them with a pen pal, who critiques their work and offers support.

Reentry support services

The club doesn’t end with their prison term, however. Once released, members have access to a Reentry Support Program. Free Minds offers a one-week paid apprenticeship in its office, where those recently released from prison learn computer skills and how to use a gmail account, help prepare the book club lesson plans and answer the phones.

They also learn such essential skills as how to show up on time, how to get to appointments and how to call in if they’re going to be late or sick. Interns learn formal correspondence by writing a letter to their probation officer.

“The reason our outcomes are so good is because we’ve known our members since they were 16 and first arrested,” says Libert. “We can achieve a lot in a week. It’s like an assessment week. We call them program assistants and they help with everything in the office.”

During the internship week, Free Minds brings in guest speakers who have been incarcerated and are now working to demonstrate that it’s possible to find employment even with a record. The staff puts on a networking lunch with some of the other nonprofits in the building where the organization is located, so the interns can learn how to network and so they can discover the importance of personal connections.

Although Free Minds hadn’t set out to offer job services of any kind, it decided to launch the internship program about two years ago.

“We were referring them (those released from prison) to vocational training or job readiness, and they weren’t staying or weren’t lasting,” says Libert. “So we said we need to have a time (the internship week) where we can observe them and practice real skills in a supportive employment place where you can make a lot of mistakes.”

Free Minds also does some job placement through referrals from employed members but would like to do more in that area. The organization is currently looking for a strategic reentry partner who can take on the role of dealing with job readiness skills and placement.

For more information, visit


CareerBuilder surveys employers on their hiring of ex-offenders

Hiring and human resources managers across the nation filled out surveys concerning ex-offender hiring.

Most employers are open to hiring ex-offenders, at least according to a major study from CareerBuilder. In fact, 51 percent of those surveyed reported that their organizations have at one point hired someone with a criminal record.

The online survey of 2,298 U.S. hiring managers and human resource professionals was conducted by Harris International on behalf of CareerBuilder between May 14 and June 4, 2012. CareerBuilder, a company specializing in human capital solutions, is best known for its job-search website, which receives more than 24 million unique visitors per month.

Why the attention to ex-offenders? “CareerBuilder looks at a variety of employment issues throughout the year,” says company spokesperson Michael Erwin. “This was our first survey that focused on criminal backgrounds and based on the positive response to it, we will most likely redo it next year.”

The survey respondents made many recommendations on what job seekers with criminal records can do to make themselves more marketable to employers. Those who work with ex-offenders have no doubt heard most of these recommendations before but may not realize where they rank in importance among hiring and HR managers.

“The number one recommendation hiring managers have is to own your past and focus on what you learned from it to grow professionally and personally,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “You also want to stay active. Taking classes, volunteering and tapping into social networks can be good ways to help overcome obstacles associated with job hunting with a criminal past.”

What things – in order of importance – that ex-offenders can do to make themselves more marketable, according to the survey results:

  • Be up-front and honest about the conviction and stress what you learned from it (68 percent)
  • Be willing to work your way up (48 percent)
  • Stay positive (46 percent)
  • Prepare while you’re in prison by taking classes or getting a degree or vocational training (39 percent)
  • Don’t apply to jobs where your record would automatically disqualify you (31 percent)
  • Volunteer (31 percent)
  • Take freelance or temporary assignments (26 percent)
  • Consider joining the military (18 percent)
  • Start your own business (16 percent)
  • Monitor what is said on social media (13 percent)

Those looking for a job should follow these recommendations and might also want to check out, which includes listings for a wide variety of jobs, from construction and customer service to restaurant and retail and opportunities in countless other fields.

For more information, visit


America Works succeeds matching ex-offenders with employers

America Works’ Oakland office’s clients are referred by select Alameda County deputy probation officers.

While many job developers seem to find working with ex-offenders a particular challenge, one company has found a successful niche in outcome-based prison-to-work (and welfare-to-work) programs.

With operations in New York City; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Newark and Mount Laurel, N.J.; Albany, N.Y.; and Oakland, Calif, America Works is an employment agency – or employment service as it refers to itself – but an employment agency with a difference.

It partners with government agencies to serve hard-to-place individuals, and among the company’s many programs is one in Oakland, Calif. that works with the Alameda County Probation Department through its America Works of California, Inc. division. During its first six years in Oakland, the company’s efforts were funded by the city’s Measure Y initiative, which was passed by Oakland voters in 2004 and provides $20 million per year through a parcel tax to fund a variety of services including those dealing with reentry.

America Works’ Measure Y funding is coming to an end, and it is now working with Alameda County, where Oakland is located, to serve those affected by the state’s so called “public safety realignment.” To deal with its severely overcrowded state prison population, the California Assembly passed AB (Assembly Bill) 109, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2011, and realigns certain responsibilities for lower level offenders, adult parolees and juvenile offenders from state to local jurisdictions.

“The probation departments’ caseloads have gone through the roof with the realignment,” says Matt Ericksen, executive director of America Works of California. “If the state wants to be successful, it has to get these guys back to work.”

And that’s where America Works comes in. It receives referrals from select deputy probation officers for ex-offenders who are categorized as post-release, community supervised under AB109. “Fifty-three percent of those referred to us actually come in,” Ericksen says. Some of them have found other things, and others just don’t want to work, he adds.

Those who come to America Works receive job readiness training that concentrates on soft skills, computer skills and issues like anger management. Staff members do a needs assessment and help them obtain things like a driver’s license and social security card, and connect them to various social service agencies to get food, housing, interview clothing and substance treatment if needed.

Once participants complete the job readiness training they meet with the company’s job developer, who spends a great deal of time and effort developing relationships with many communities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, getting to know the employers and potential opportunities.

It’s not just about finding the right job for an applicant, however, but about finding the right applicant for a particular job and company, something America Works has become quite skilled at. The recidivism rate for those who have found work through its efforts is only 5 percent, according to Ericksen.

Industries that the company focuses on are construction, retail, telemarketing, transportation and food. It also received training dollars to offer the 40-hour HazWOpER (hazardous waste site worker) certification training about a year and a half ago – with participants placed in positions in a variety of places, including the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, Calif. – and is currently in the process of putting together another class.

The company’s job developer places more than 100 ex-offenders each year, and this year will place more than 138.

The key to the job developer’s success?  “It’s not only understanding the employer but also understanding the job seeker. One of the first questions she asks is what can you do and what do you want to do,” Ericksen says. “We had someone come in who was an artist, and we found him a job in a tattoo studio.”

In spite of the company’s achievements, it hasn’t been easy. “One challenge is the level of frustration. So many doors have been slammed in their face,” he adds. “It takes a little bit of time. Sometimes people will call and say, ‘Why haven’t you found me a job?’”

Ericksen and his colleagues understand the frustration and do everything they can to help ensure their clients find – and keep – jobs.

“The most successful guys coming out of prison are those with a support system. If they don’t have one, we provide it. We stay engaged and keep them engaged,” he says.

For more information about America Works, check out its website at