Contra Costa County recently hosted a Fair Chance Summit, where former prisoners, state policy makers and local business owners came together to promote the idea that hiring ex-convicts can benefit the entire community, according to a Martinez News-Gazette article.
The Contra Costa Workforce Development Board invited State Senator Bill Dodd and County District Supervisor Candace Andersen to speak, as well as several former inmates. They each addressed a select group of human resource professionals, corporate leaders and employment developers in hopes of encouraging them to help men and women with prison records get hired and become valued employees.
“This is good for our businesses and good for our communities”
“Studies suggest that being employed substantially reduces the risk of all recidivism outcomes,” said Workforce Board Interim Director Donna Van Wert. “This is good for our businesses and good for our communities.”
The guest speakers included John Krause, a former San Quentin inmate, who is now the owner of Big House Beans, a coffee roaster in Antioch. Because he personally understands the struggle for newly released prisoners to find decent jobs, Krause actively seeks ex-convicts as potential employees. He believes they often work harder and are more appreciative of their opportunity.
Also asked to share his experience was Nilton Serva, an ex-gang member who had served two separate terms for burglary convictions before discovering Earn and Learn East Bay. With that program’s help, Serva enrolled at Los Medanos College, sought out job interviews, and successfully became a Costco employee while pursuing his business administration degree.
“We’re seeing interest in hiring formerly incarcerated people, not only because of federal incentives that are available, but because it is an untapped labor market,” said Van Wert, “that under the right circumstances can produce a valuable and loyal employee who provides a tremendous benefit to the bottom line of a business.”
Western Contra Costa County currently has a 78 percent unemployment rate for its residents with prior convictions, said Alan Wang and Tish Gallegos, media contacts for the county’s Employment and Human Services Department.
The purpose of the summit, according to Van Wert, was to show how hiring ex-prisoners can benefit the new employees as well as the companies and cities where they’re situated.
“A lot of business leaders are looking to take advantage of tax credits, fidelity bonding and wage reimbursements,” she said.