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Activists: Employing formerly incarcerated people benefits society

Saeed Shabazz | 8/31/2017, 9:55 a.m.
Former President Barack Obama: “Around 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record. It means millions of Americans have ...
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Former President Barack Obama: “Around 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record. It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job, much less actually hang on to that job. That’s bad for not only those individuals—it’s bad for our economy; it’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed. So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.”

However, the elephant in the room goes by the name recidivism. Analysts say that more than 600,000 people in the United States are released from jail each year, and less than half secure jobs upon their return to the community. Statewide rates of recidivism range from 31 percent to 70 percent, and the rates for those placed in jobs shortly after their release range from 3.3 to 8 percent.

There are some new kids on the block who say they have the answer to stem the tide of recidivism: WhenPeopleWork.com.

WPW is an online employment platform that matches job seekers who have criminal records— including prisoners nearing release—with employers who are willing to hire from this population, according to the organization’s website.

“Research shows that it is unemployment that is perhaps the single most important contributor to recidivism,” argued Sheila Rule, social justice activist, prison reform advocate and presently COO at the Connecticut-based WhenPeopleWork.com. Rule spoke with the AmNews by teleconference call. “That research is against the backdrop of a reality where nearly 75 percent of people who are formerly incarcerated are still jobless a year after their release,” she said.

“A good job is the cornerstone of successful reentry” and a reduction in crime recidivism. “When people work, they have decent housing; they can support their families and become productive, law-abiding citizens of their communities,” explained Frank Zarro, founder of the In Our Name Initiatives, a component of the Skidmore College Project on Restorative Justice. When People Work first of all recognizes the system as it exists; and really, the employment process as it exists sets people up to fail, Zarro told the AmNews. “When People Work is built to set people up to succeed,” stated Zarro.

WPW, according to its website, is based on a fair, transparent and secure hiring process that connects employers and employees who share the same goals. By eliminating some of the barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated, Rule and Zarro say they hope to alleviate many of the stigmas people encounter upon release from prison.

WPW invites employers who are willing to hire people with criminal records to post jobs free of charge; the service is also free to job seekers. “Job seekers on our platform have a range of employment experience and skills, from entry level to administrative and managerial,” noted Rule.

“Another unique component of our board is that, in making matches, it takes into consideration an applicant’s parole restrictions and post-release concerns, including curfew and travel limitations,” Zarro stated. “The system can be made available in prisons and jails, and the families of prisoners can access the program from their homes.”

He added, “Our seven-step process takes less than 12 minutes to complete.”

WPW added that one of its most distinctive features is its ability to create ongoing measurements and analytics that allow government policy makers to accurately evaluate the fiscal and social impact of hiring people with criminal records.

WPW picked the state of Connecticut as its first endeavor. “Our expectation is actually that we will have a positive impact on people’s lives—not only an individual, but on families—and communities. Our expectation is that we are going to make quite an impact,” Rule said.