Formerly incarcerated people are still facing many obstacles finding employment despite “Ban the Box” laws.
After serving almost 20-years of a life sentence, Oakland native Adam Garcia went home in November 2019 to an unfamiliar world of technology.
Garcia spoke of the challenges he faced when applying for jobs; he entered a world of LinkedIn and Indeed. Garcia also found a pattern when applying to jobs: “I went through so many different final interviews and I noticed that on face level, everything was going good,” Garcia told The OaklandSide. “And then I noticed when it came time for a background check, tones started to change.”
Garcia said that potential employers’ attitudes shifted when discussing the background check; their body language became different. Garcia found that on many occasions hiring managers would say that they were denying him the job due to lack of professional experience. But in reference to his criminal record, Garcia said, “It’s one of those things where it’s just like, well, what other reason if not for that?”
The Fair Chance Act, aka “Ban the Box,” passed in 2018 to prohibit companies which have five or more employees from inquiring into prior imprisonment history throughout the hiring process. But companies have ways to circumvent the law.
Stacy Villalobos, a Legal Aide at Work attorney, said she has uncovered over 150 violations in the month of July 2020 alone, according to the article. Villalobos’ group was part of a coalition that brought to light multiple violations in Southern California.
According to Villalobos, violations of the Fair Chance Act occur throughout the interview process. Some prospective employers were upfront about it; others had more subtle methods.
“At the base level, we’re all people,” said Garcia. “And if we are all just treated as the worst thing we ever did in our life, then that’s always going to be that scarlet letter. But we’re more than just one aspect of our life.”
Garcia signed up for a job training course from a company called Checkr. Daniel Yanisse and Jonathan Perichon founded the company in San Francisco in 2014. The company developed a background check tool for employers that also helps level out the playing field for formerly incarcerated people.
Through this training program Garcia met Kate Leidy. Her organization, Strively, focuses on creating what the article calls a “prison-to-tech pipeline,” to help formerly incarcerated people get jobs in the tech industry. Strively works with the Center for Employment Opportunities to get formerly incarcerated people into tech sales positions.
“Recidivism and unemployment are married to each other” said Leidy. “And so if we don’t get people the opportunity to support themselves in a meaningful way, then we’re punishing people for their entire lives for something that happened 20 years ago.”
Recidivism is what Leidy’s organization hopes to affect by breaking down some of the cycles related to incarceration.
The Center for Employment Opportunities operates inside San Quentin State Prison. The program prepares those waiting for release to write resumes and prepare for interviews.
But Garcia, who wasn’t at San Quentin, couldn’t attend these workshops. He only met Leidy as a recently released parolee.
“What I still love about Kate is she’s very open, honest, and transparent,” said Garcia. “She was telling me, ‘We’re going down uncharted territories here, but I don’t want that to deter you.’”
According to Garcia, part of what the program did was to help him regain his self-confidence. It was Garcia’s first time networking online. Strively helped him learn how to navigate the process, mentoring Garcia until he was up to speed.
Garcia said his optimism remains strong, as does his hope for a society “where companies don’t have those stigmas and stereotypes associated with formerly incarcerated individuals, but really open their minds up to the potential and value that Fair Chance candidates bring.”