Some of the best job prospects for the formerly incarcerated are in the tech industry. A major problem is getting quality tech training to the people returning to society, according to the magazine Wired.
“Tech companies in particular have begun to recognize a social responsibility to train people who have been impacted by the legal system,” the November 2022 story said.
One example is the Grow with Google Career Readiness for Reentry program, which aims to “bring digital skills to previously incarcerated jobseekers.” It funds several nonprofits that focus on digital literacy, including The Last Mile and Fortune Society.
The Last Mile program teaches computer programming to San Quentin State Prison residents.
“The Next Chapter Project provides training, apprenticeships, and coaching in tech and engineering,” Wired reported. It recently helped place three formerly incarcerated people at Slack and plans to expand to 14 other companies.
“There are benefits for employers,” the story noted. “People with criminal records are routinely recognized for how hard they work” Many employers report they “perform as well as those without records and are often the most dedicated and long-term employees.”
Omay Ford served a decade-long federal sentence and had access to basic computer classes, but with a lack of internet access, classes were primarily focused on the fundamentals of identifying various parts of a computer.
“You gotta go online and fill out the application … so once again, I had to find a friend to help me fill out the application. When I came home, I realized that everything is online. Everything,” said Ford.
Individuals released from prison on parole or probation sometimes need to obtain a job as a requirement for being released. They usually have no digital presence, but when they do, it’s often the evidence of their crime. However, studies conclude that criminal records remain a serious barrier to obtaining employment and these programs are needed, the article reported.
There is research that documents racial biases and stigmas in hiring processes. So far, little interest has been shown in addressing how complicated the hiring process can be for even the most qualified applicant being released from prison.
One program is aiming to change the racial bias and stigmas that evolve during the hiring process. The Linked Thru Project, a program created by Amy Zhang, a master’s student at Emerson College, is grassroots and run by volunteers.
Zhang designed the program to teach social media and digital literacy. The unique part is that it focuses on giving individuals agency over their identity. The project lets a person create and curate their LinkedIn profile, which creates a “counter narrative” to combat stigmas, arrest articles on the internet and background checks.
William participated in the Linked Thru Project. “A regular citizen can apply for 10 jobs and get a job out of those 10 applications. If you have a record, you could fill out 100 and get no calls back,” he says. “There just has to be a way to destigmatize a criminal record and actually give people that second chance to prove themselves. If you got convicted and served your time, you’ve served your time.”
The Wired article recommends that company practices should be reassessed to dissolve the amplified disparities in the criminal legal system. They suggest that time served, age, rehabilitation and redemption get taken into account because everyone has something in their past that they would like to move on from.
“If companies are really serious about hiring returning citizens, it needs to start from inside,” Ford said.