New Initiative to Advance Employment Opportunities for Youth and Adults With Criminal Records

  • National Education and Workforce Nonprofit Jff Launches the Center for Justice and Economic Advancement to Mobilize Employers and Boost Career Trajectories for People With Criminal Records

Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit driving transformation of the American workforce and education systems, announced the launch of a new center in partnership with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center that will help adults with criminal records secure meaningful employment. With funding from the Justice and Mobility Fund, the Center for Justice and Economic Advancement (CJEA) will break down barriers to reentry and economic advancement for people with criminal records.

“People with records are too often shut out of opportunities in society, especially employment,” said Lucretia Murphy, associate vice president at JFF and director of the Center for Justice and Economic Advancement. “Education, training, and fair chance hiring can help create the conditions for people with records to thrive in the workforce and ultimately help employers find and retain the talent to meet their hiring needs.”

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Each year,more than 650,000 individuals are released from state or federal prisons and enter the job market. One year after release, more than 75 percent remain unemployed and only 55 percent report having any income. Incarceration has a disproportionate impact on people of color: Black Americans comprise about 38 percent of the prison and jail population but only 12 percent of the U.S. population. [CG1]  In addition,racial discrimination and inequity in the labor market exacerbate the stigma of having a criminal record for Black people. Economists estimate that excluding previously incarcerated individuals from the workforce reduces the U.S. annual GDP by $78 billion to $87 billion each year.

“Business leaders should support criminal justice reform because criminal justice reform is good for business,” said Jeffrey Korzenik, chief investment officer at one of the nation’s largest banks and author of Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community (HarperCollins Leadership, 2021). “At a time when employers are facing a rising shortage of skilled talent, people with records represent a diverse and overlooked pool of talent that can help meet the needs of employers in a wide range of industries.”

JFF will guide the center’s launch and development during an initial two-year planning grant, working to disrupt longstanding inequities and expand employment opportunities for people with criminal records. Over time, the organization will provide technical assistance and capacity building for promising models, advocate for policy and systems change, and conduct research and advocacy to increase the field’s understanding of this complex challenge. The initiative will mobilize employers to adopt equitable and inclusive hiring practices that result in employment and advancement of people with records. The new center will pair JFF’s expertise in education and workforce policy with the state policy networks and criminal justice expertise of the CSG Justice Center, which is already working with legislative champions in 17 states to advance fair chance licensing.

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“Formerly incarcerated individuals overwhelmingly occupy low-wage positions—often because of limited access to education, training, and credentials that lead to opportunities for career advancement,” said Nicole Jarrett, director of the Corrections and Reentry Division at the CSG Justice Center. “This work is about advocating for changes in policy and practice that can break down barriers to in-demand careers for returning citizens.”

“At this critical moment, we have the opportunity to unlock the potential for millions of justice-impacted people in America to thrive in an equitable, inclusive economic recovery,” said Mindy Tarlow, managing director at Blue Meridian Partners, a Justice and Mobility Fund cosponsor. “The launch of this groundbreaking center will provide the tools, resources, and strategies needed to assist employers in adopting fair chance hiring at unprecedented levels and help people with prior records access pathways to living-wage employment.”

The center will build a coalition of business leaders, workforce providers, and community and technical colleges, working to create the conditions for people with records to succeed in the workforce. Over time, JFF will work to establish a set of national best practices and policies for helping people who are incarcerated and those with records to achieve economic advancement.

“It’s time for us to change the narrative around people with records in this country and focus on the forward-looking potential of formerly incarcerated individuals, who should not be defined by their past,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF. “This center will serve as a catalyst for employers, policymakers, and education and training providers working to reduce barriers to successful reentry.”

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American workforceeducation systemsJobs for the FutureNational EducationPartnership
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