As she neared the end of her four-year prison sentence, Amanda Hall experienced tremendous anxiety. She had committed to creating a better life for herself, free of the drugs and bad relationships that resulted in her incarceration, but the list of things she would need to do to reenter society felt neverending. She needed to pay her fines, find a place to live, get her license back and, eventually, buy a car. But before anything else, she needed a job — one that could help get her on the path she’d committed to following after hitting rock bottom. However, with her record, who would hire her?
Fast-forward three years, and Amanda Hall now works in the human resources department of JBM Packaging where she recruits other people into our company’s Fair Chance Program; people who, like Amanda, have spent time in prison.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. releases more than 7 million people from jail — almost one in three adults — and more than 600,000 people from prison each year. Within three years of their release, two out of three people are rearrested and more than 50% are incarcerated again.
Many employers are reluctant to hire people with records, largely due to the stigma surrounding incarceration. However, that’s starting to change as Fair Chance programs have begun to build momentum, gaining the interest of top companies, including JP Morgan Chase, Koch Industries, General Motors and many others.
With so many manufacturing businesses struggling with labor shortages, Fair Chance programs can provide a steady pipeline of candidates. Even better, 85% of HR leaders report that individuals with criminal records perform the same as, or better than, employees without a record. Fair Chance programs help build an inclusive and diverse workplace, while also helping to establish a strong organizational purpose around which all team members can rally.
How Fair Chance Programs Work
Also known as “Second Chance,” Fair Chance programs can take many different forms depending on leadership support and the resources available. However, the first step in any Fair Chance program is eliminating criteria or policies that prevent someone with a criminal record from securing employment. For example, “Ban the Box” policies call for the removal of boxes that pre-screen people for a criminal record when they complete an application for employment.
As a next step, it requires establishing a pipeline of qualified candidates who would otherwise not be included in recruitment efforts to give them a fair chance at employment. This can happen by working directly with prisons, halfway houses and other local organizations.
However, for a Fair Chance program to truly thrive, it must go beyond providing employment and include wrap-around services. These services are designed to support the individual both personally and professionally. What does that mean?
As Amanda experienced, re-entering society required her to overcome barriers that went beyond finding employment. Once she found employment, she needed transportation to get to work and housing so she had somewhere to live. Oftentimes, handling this type of business needs to be done during traditional work hours. This makes it difficult for someone who has recently started a new job, unless they have the support of their employer to take the necessary time off.
A Fair Chance program looks at the common needs experienced by people hired through the program and find ways to better connect them with the resources they need to get back on their feet. Working with external agencies, companies can help workers and support them through this transitional periods.
Beyond essential needs such as food, shelter and transportation, a Fair Chance program can also walk alongside new team members to assist them in their journey. Through professional coaching that helps with activities such as goal setting and accountability to education around health and wellness and handling personal finances, team members can continue to grow and develop, both in their careers and in their personal lives.
What to Keep in Mind
One of the biggest challenges in implementing a Fair Chance program is knowing where to start. By no means exhaustive, this list of considerations will help start the conversation around building a successful Fair Chance program:
- Engage Leadership. The program has the potential to transform a company’s culture and purpose by not only providing opportunities for individuals who might not otherwise receive them, but by giving other team members the opportunity to find greater meaning in their work. This type of transformation must have the support of leadership to be successful. From the CEO to the director of human resources, engage all leaders within the organization.
- Establish Goals. How many people do you want to recruit? What are your key performance indicators for success? What retention rate do you hope to achieve? Setting goals at the outset of the program can help define the strategy for the program and benchmarks for success.
- Make Resources Available. Starting a program requires an investment. While there’s proven ROI, it’s important to determine how much the company is willing to put into creating a Fair Chance program.
- Assess Profiles. Almost half of people in prison (45%) are there due to drug-related convictions; however, theft and illegal possession of weapons are also leading offenses. Before starting the program, make determinations around the types of records will be accepted into it.
- Identify Partners. Individuals coming out of incarceration often need different types of support, which is nearly impossible for one organization to provide. Look around the area to identify allies, including nonprofit organizations and government entities, to help provide support services.
- Develop Internal Systems. From supports to career paths, creating a framework that supports the development of traditional employees and Fair Chance hires alike can help position everyone for success. Initiatives can include education and training around personal growth and development, mentorship programs and performance incentives. When employees are encouraged to become the best version of themselves, they will perform at their best.
- Celebrate the Wins. When team members experience milestones in their employment, sobriety journeys or at other key points in their lives, take the time to celebrate with them. As other team members step up to assist, recognize their support. Taking the time to celebrate the people and efforts that have contributed to a successful program will help contribute to its long-term success.
- If you’re interested in exploring what a Fair Chance program can do for your business, we’d love to help. We’ve learned a lot over the years and would be happy to share what’s worked for us.
A CEO’s Experience Providing Fair Chances
With almost half of business owners identifying labor shortages as a “significant issue” impacting their companies in a recent analysis, our company, JBM Packaging, has maintained a steady pipeline of candidates to manufacture eco-friendly flexible packaging and provide contract packaging services through our Fair Chance Program.
The program came about when an identified problem met divine inspiration. With an aging production team, our leadership team recognized that labor shortages would challenge our long-term growth goals. We participated in job fairs at local high schools and community colleges to find new recruits. Still, despite a benefits package and starting wages that beat many other companies in the region, we received an underwhelming response. That’s when inspiration struck. Hearing the power of Second Chance employment programs at church one Sunday, I decided to explore the opportunity.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The program has completely transformed our business. More than five years later, approximately one-third of our current team members hired through Fair Chance, and it has enabled the company to deliver on our goal of creating better solutions, better lives and a better world.