The blog of the Urban Institute
April 29, 2021

Corporate America Can Advance Racial Equity by Expanding Employment Opportunities to Justice-Impacted People

April 29, 2021

The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and, most recently, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo, are a reminder of how far America has to go to remediate systemic harms against communities of color. In the past year, communities, nonprofits, researchers, and policymakers, including the Biden administration, have joined the global movement for racial justice. Second Chance Month is a reminder that corporate America also has a role to play.

Research shows Black people are disproportionately incarcerated in the US—more Black people are in prisons and jails or under community supervision today than were enslaved in 1850. The impact of justice system involvement lasts long after incarceration. People of color already experience discrimination (PDF) because of structural inequalities, institutional biases, and personal biases.

Criminal records perpetuate barriers to successful community reentry and research has documented the variety of collateral consequences of system involvement; criminal background checks restrict access to employment and create barriers to economic stability, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

With racial equity at the forefront of our national conversation, both the public and private sectors should address inequality and expand opportunity for justice-impacted people. Corporations large and small have a responsibility to expand employment opportunities for all people, regardless of their criminal history, and researchers and policymakers can help remove barriers to equitable hiring practices.

Corporations are increasingly committing to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion but could do more for people with criminal backgrounds

Corporations are reimagining how they can maximize productivity while making their own organizations and the world a better, fairer place. Financial wealth, sound infrastructure, and the strong potential for exponential growth make corporations well positioned to boost economic mobility for underserved groups. As part of this effort, they should invest in their communities by expanding employment opportunities for people with criminal backgrounds.

Corporations can destigmatize criminal backgrounds and encourage widespread implementation of fair hiring and promotion practices in the workplace. For example, Slack’s Next Chapter program transforms the technology sector by creating sustainable employment pathways for people leaving incarceration. This apprenticeship program partners with several large companies, including Affirm, Drop Box, the Kellogg Foundation, Square, and Zoom, to create environments inclusive of formerly incarcerated people.

The following strategies provide a starting point for implementing equitable hiring practices that offer a second chance for people with a criminal background.

Equitable hiring doesn’t stop with employers

Changemakers, including researchers and policymakers have a responsibility to support corporations’ efforts to build equity. Corporate hire programs aimed to provide opportunity for people with criminal records have yet to be evaluated, which is important for effectively identifying and removing barriers to implementing second chance employment. Researchers and policymakers can support and facilitate fair hiring practices for justice-impacted people and people with criminal backgrounds by considering the following:

  • Evaluate, replicate and expand the Clean Slate Initiative, which automatically seals certain conviction records after a person stays crime free for 10 years and all non-conviction records with no waiting period.
  • Elevate second chance hiring as part of justice reinvestment, which redirects funds from justice systems to community-based strategies.
  • Support the Workforce Justice Act of 2021 (“Ban the Box”), which prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history before an offer is made. If passed, states would have three years to remove the disclosure of criminal history question from private-sector employment applications. Noncompliant states would stand to lose criminal justice funding.
  • Ensure the rigorous evaluation of corporate hire programs to assess implementation challenges, programmatic impact, and opportunities for improvement and future expansion.

Equity-committed corporations alongside researchers and policymakers have the power and authority to break down systemic barriers for people impacted by the justice system. By implementing these recommendations, corporations and change makers can build equity within underserved communities and move toward ameliorating the disproportionate harms the system has had on communities of color.


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