Once shunned, people convicted of felonies find more employers open to hiring them

Image source: Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times (All Rights Reserved)

According to this Los Angeles Times article, all across the country, as the economy surges and employers struggle to find enough workers, individuals with felony and other criminal records are finding a sliver of a silver lining in the dark cloud of the pandemic.

Journalist Don Lee reports that, in the summer of 2021, U.S. employers reported an unprecedented 10.9 million job openings. That, Lee says, was equal to more than one job for every unemployed person in the country.

In response, a growing number of companies are beginning to tap into a huge, largely ignored labor pool: the roughly 20 million Americans, mostly men and many unemployed, who have felony convictions.

Read more about increased efforts to hire individuals with a criminal record

Webinar: Growing Momentum for Clean Slate and Fair Chance Licensing in the States

In an April 2021 event, the Center for American Progress, National Employment Law Project, and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia hosted a conversation with several of the state leaders behind recent transformative policy wins that offer a model for state and federal policymakers to put second chances within reach for workers and families facing the stigma of a criminal record.

The event highlighted that, in recognition that a criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty and joblessness, bipartisan momentum for both “clean slate” automatic record clearance and fair chance licensing has exploded in recent years, with dozens of states advancing these policy reforms to remove barriers to economic security for their justice-impacted residents. As leaders at all levels of government work to “build back better,” removing barriers to employment for workers with records is even more urgently needed amid the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and downturn to ensure not only a full but an equitable recovery that does not leave tens of millions of justice-impacted individuals and families behind.

The event was moderated by Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and featured distinguished guests Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan as well as panelists:

Rep. Jordan Harris (D), Minority Whip, Pennsylvania General Assembly
Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Josh Hoe, Policy Analyst, Safe and Just Michigan
Whitley Carpenter, Criminal Justice Staff Attorney, Forward Justice
Jael Myrickr, Interim Director, Clean Slate Practice, East Bay Community Law Center

Access the recorded event from the Center for American Progress

More States Consider Automatic Criminal Record Expungement

Image source: Anna Nichols, The Associated Press (All Rights Reserved) 

A May 2021 Stateline article from The Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that a growing number of states are trying to ease the burden of criminal records expungement and record clearing by making the process automatic, without requiring any action by the people seeking to clear their records. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults, some 70 million people, have a criminal record, including those who were arrested but not convicted. The article’s author asserts that these records have long-lasting consequences that can hinder a person’s access to employment, housing or a professional license.

According to the article, many people who are eligible fail to get their records cleared because the process can be costly and complicated. The article points to a 2020 study by two University of Michigan law professors found 90% of those eligible in Michigan don’t apply. A key reason for this, the author asserts, is that, in states that allow for certain criminal records to be sealed or expunged but don’t have an automatic process, people must file a petition in court, which is complicated and expensive. Then the courts must process each petition individually.

As of May 2021, Stateline found a dozen bills introduced across 10 states this year that push for automatic clearing, expungement or sealing of criminal records. Supporters say these bills are necessary to get millions of people back to work, but critics argue that sealing criminal records could threaten public safety.

Learn more about efforts in Virginia, Texas, Michigan and beyond in Stateline

JPMorgan Chase & Company’s Jamie Dimon Talks Second Chance Hiring

In an August 2021 opinion guest essay in The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase & Company chairman and chief executive Jamie Dimon expresses his “moral outrage” for the more than 70 million Americans with an arrest or criminal record that face financial, legal and logistical roadblocks that prevent them from securing good jobs after after they have paid their debt to society. He points to the fact that nearly half of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed one year after leaving prison.

“This group is ready to work and deserves a second chance — an opportunity to fill the millions of job openings across the country. Yet our criminal justice system continues to block them from doing so.”

In the essay, Dimon discusses the steps JPMorgan Chase & Company have taken to help overcome some of these barriers, including “banning the box” asking about a candidate’s criminal or arrest records on initial job applications, establishing a Second Chance hiring program, that provides legal services, job search support and mentorship, and partnered with other employers like Accenture, CVS, Eaton, General Motors, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Verizon and Walmart to form the Second Chance Business Coalition, which allows businesses to develop and share best practices and test new approaches to help support the hiring and advancement of people with criminal backgrounds.

“In part because of these efforts, we hired approximately 2,100 people with a criminal background in 2020 — roughly 10 percent of our new hires in the United States that year.”

Despite these highlights in the corporate world, Dimon expresses that “to create real systemic change, we need better public policy.” He points to the various forms of “Clean Slate” legislation making their way through Congress and U.S. state capitals, aimed at helping clear or seal eligible criminal records, open access to jobs and increase earnings by about 20 percent. He points also to the great progress states like Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware have made in passing or enacting similar bipartisan clean slate legislation but contends that C.E.O.s and community leaders must urge more states and the federal government to pursue similar legislative solutions.

Read Dimon’s full essay in The New York Times

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