Over the last two years, employers across the country have been struggling to fill open positions. In September 2021, more than 4.4 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily—the highest number recorded in decades. As more Americans participate in ‘The Great Resignation’, REFORM Alliance CEO Robert Rooks believes employers should look to hire people who were formerly incarcerated to help replenish and reactivate the workforce.
In an opinion piece for CNN, Rooks asks employers to acknowledge that people who were formerly incarcerated and those on probation and parole are an ‘untapped resource’ amidst a historic labor shortage. According to a report from the Prison Policy Institute, more than 25% of people who were formerly incarcerated are unemployed out of the estimated five million in the United States. In addition, the same report found that more than 90% of this population are either working or actively looking for a job, and are enthusiastic about finding employment.
In order to make this solution a reality, there must be criminal justice reform in the United States, but also employers need to rethink and rework their hiring processes. There are currently many barriers to employment for people who were formerly incarcerated including curfews while on probation and parole, distance restrictions and licensing requirements. And, there is also a bias attached to hiring people with criminal records, despite Ban the Box laws that help adopt fair, inclusive hiring practices. Rook suggests that the administration and leading CEOs “should double down on common sense reforms” that would enable more people to get to work.
REFORM Alliance Helps the Formerly Incarcerated Gain Employment
Launched in 2019, REFORM Alliance is a criminal justice reform organization in which Robert F. Smith is a Founding Partner. REFORM was created after recording artist Meek Mill was sentenced to two-to-four years in prison for probation violations out of proportion to his alleged offenses. Mill began to see that it would take a social justice movement to effect real change.
In October 2020, REFORM played a major role in getting the AB 1950 bill passed in California. One of the most transformative probation bills in history, this legislation caps probation and parole terms at 1-2 years for most offenses. Building off of this momentum, REFORM has continued to be a key player in getting similar bills introduced in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Mississippi. In December 2021, Pennsylvania State Senate passed probation reform bill SB 913, which would permit early probation termination for activities such as consistent employment or completion of degree programs. “The Senate’s passage of SB 1913 today is a step forward for probation reform in Pennsylvania,” said Rooks. “This broadly supported and bipartisan legislation presents an enormous opportunity to reform a broken and overcrowded probation system that tears families apart and drains taxpayer dollars.”
Learn more about how the REFORM Alliance’s collaborative efforts helped get AB 1950 signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.