Dr. Priscillia Hunt started the Courageous Conversation with this quote referring to unemployment rates. Dr. Hunt is an economist at RAND Corporation whose research focuses on understanding and quantifying the impact of criminal justice policies on society. She spoke at our Courageous Conversation about her research and potential strategies that support returning citizens to become full participants in our economic ecosystem.
Dr. Hunt began the conversation with lessons that she has learned from her research about driving factors for employers’ decisions as they consider formerly incarcerated individuals for employment.
- People with records are “riskier” to hire than the general public. However, people with records are not equally “risky”.
- To determine “risk” level, employers value record information as a driving factor. Determining factors include:
- Time since last conviction
- Crime type
- Number of prior convictions
- Age at conviction
- Many people successfully exit the criminal justice system. In fact, 67% of people who experience prison do not return to prison. Even “high-risk” individuals stop committing crimes.
From these lessons, Dr. Hunt showed that we know people can and do stop committing crime, but we are not great at understanding the internal causes of why they stop. The challenge is finding out how to identify stoppers earlier to allow for employers to make stronger decisions.
Dr. Hunt then shared potential strategies for solving this challenge. One strategy for determining if a formerly incarcerated individual is ready to enter the workforce is if they have successfully completed a reentry program. Additionally, reducing employer risk is a good way to get companies to hire more formerly incarcerated individuals.
Following Dr. Hunt’s keynote, we welcomed panelists from Chamber of Commerce’s all over the country. We were joined by Roy Williams, CEO of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce; Derek Miller, CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce; and Andy Johnston, VP of Government & Corporate Affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. They spoke on their Chambers role in combatting workforce shortages by reducing obstacles people face as they seek employment after incarceration.
Our panel had several highlights on what businesses can do to support returning citizens and advocate for change in this space.
- Recognize that this is good for the economy
- When you start on that journey, hire a couple returning citizens at once to eliminate any opportunity for the individual to be ostracized.
- A big role of the business community is to be an anti-poverty opportunity. Among those legally eligible for expungement, only 6.5% obtain it within five years of eligibility. This has an impact on not only jobs but also housing and education.
- Businesses have the power to start this important discussion but until they understand and implement it, they are not going to be able to create change.
Hiring formerly incarcerated individuals is not only an economic imperative, but a moral imperative. This was a big takeaway from the discussion. We have all needed a second chance some time in our lives, in one form or another. Some mistakes, especially when they become a criminal record, impact the rest of an individual's life. Helping with upward mobility allows people to expunge their record and reenter the workforce, which in turn provides purpose not just in changing an individual's life, but in changing society for the better.
You can view Dr. Hunt’s PowerPoint with more information here.