Employment still the biggest obstacle for parolees

By Tommy Bryant

One of the biggest obstacle prisoners face upon release is finding a job. This applies to both violent and nonviolent offenders.

“Recently the American Bar Association estimated that there are 44,000 different barriers to re-entry at the state and federal level,” said Dominik Taylor, a staff attorney with Root and Rebound, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that offers re-entry support.

A majority of employers still require applicants to reveal their criminal record history, according to Oakland North reporter Andrew Beale.

“Research shows that just that question alone has a dramatic impact on making people a lot less likely to apply for jobs,” Taylor said. “Even if they’re qualified, they see that question, and often times they’re afraid to turn in the application.”

On top of all this, “Your parole officer can violate you, give you a violation, if you don’t have stable employment,” Taylor said. “So usually if you don’t have a job, you’re going to get violated and you’ll go back to prison, you’ll go back to jail.”

Re-entering society requires determination when applying for employment. According to a 2015 study, recidivism drops to around 3.3 to 8 percent when ex-inmates find employment rapidly, according to America Works, a job-training firm, and the Manhattan Institute, a nonpartisan research group.                                                    

San Francisco is the only city in California to “ban the box” for private employment. Even then, if there are fewer than 15 employees, those businesses are exempt from this ban, notes Beale.

Root and Rebound deputy director Sonja Tonnesen said that Title VII federal law prohibits blanket hiring bans against formerly incarcerated people.

“It is very illegal to ban all people with felonies from a job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the government agency charged with enforcing Title VII) has said that because people of color are disproportionately incarcerated, arrested, sentenced, convicted in this country, that when you ban all people with felonies, all people with a criminal record, it has an unfair impact, a disparate impact on people of color, and thus violates civil rights laws,” Tonnesen told reporter Beale..

Project Bayview Men’s and Women’s Homes executive director Shawn Gordon is the founder of Huli Huli restaurant. He also served a 12-year prison term for narcotics distribution.

Huli Huli restaurant is a prime example of what ex-inmates can achieve when given the opportunity, according to Beale. The employees of Huli Huli are all ex-cons who have received training in culinary skills.

Project Bayview also offers training in life skills, including anger management and parenting classes. Clients are encouraged to enroll in addiction recovery programs.

Gordon told Beale it’s important to give people opportunities.

“In a time and place in their life where other people would be a little hesitant to take that same chance,” Gordon said, “we’re set up and we’re built to take that chance.”

The re-entry program Root and Rebound recently launched an online site, http://reentrytraininghub.org/ that offers a step-by-step guide called “Roadmap to Re-entry,” instructions for how to obtain an ID-Card, parole, probation and deal any other barriers and or obstacles.

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