More job opportunities are opening up for parolees and others with criminal records, according to CNBC.com.
The Prison Policy Initiative estimates unemployment among ex-felons at 27 percent, but some corporations and human resource executives show signs of interest in hiring former inmates, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, (SHRM).
“This is not a problem of aspirations; it’s a structural problem, involving discrimination and a lack of opportunities made available to people who have been to prison,” said Lucius Couloute, an analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “It really takes employers who are willing to let go of their biases in pursuit not only of equality but of the best candidates.”
Eliminating bias and destigmatizing criminal history is a priority at Greyston, a bakery in Yonkers, N.Y, that makes brownies for companies such as Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods and Delta Airlines. Greyston was founded by a Buddhist monk and uses an “open hiring” model where anyone who makes it through an apprenticeship program can get a job.
Former drug dealer Dion Drew works for Greyston. Drew got out of prison in 2008 and started out as an apprentice at $7.15 an hour. Now he is paid $25 an hour and acts as an ambassador for open hiring. He even did a Ted Talk on the subject with Greyston’s CEO Mike Brady.
There are two key factors to being hired: A verifiable work history paired with some level of education or training post-conviction, which indicates personal growth while incarcerated. Drew believes his success stems from the decisions he made while incarcerated.
“I set my goals and plans while I was upstate,” Drew told CNBC. “I wanted to save money the right way, to have a family. I wanted to put the smile back on my mom’s face.”
Greyston actively tries to interest other companies in their approach through a project, the Center for Open Hiring. It trains companies in investing in training rather than spending time and money trying to avoid “red flags.”
Changing employers’ attitudes toward working with ex-felons is still complicated. While companies may be open to the idea, only five percent actively recruit parolee’s, according to the SHRM report.
The federal government offers a tax incentive to employers who hire and retain ex-felons, veterans and others with significant employment barriers. If the employee works 120 hours a year, the company can claim a tax credit of 25 percent of its first year’s wages and 40 percent if they work 400 hours.
A study by the RAND Institute found that such incentives are productive. Another important incentive is being able to recover staffing-agency fees if the new hire doesn’t work out. Or, in the case of ex-felons, the agencies find a replacement for free, if the ex-offender isn’t successful on the job.
New Jersey-based consultant Eric Mayo says some well known minimum wage employers are open to hiring parolees. They include McDonald’s, CNBC’s parent company Comcast, and Atlantic City casinos
“I encourage people to apply for every job they feel qualified for,” Mayo said. “Even without a felony record, looking for a job is a numbers game.”