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RINLA attends the Center for Health and Justice Transformation’s Reentry Simulation for Rhode Island Employers

In October of last year, RINLA staff organized a panel discussion for the RINLA board and Workforce Advisory members focused on fair chance hiring (the practice of considering job applicants with criminal records for hire) for the industry. Panelists discussed the perceived benefits of hiring workers with criminal convictions, sometimes referred to as justice-involved workers. The reported collective experience of panelists was that if you give someone a chance to prove themselves to you, you will have them for life. The panelists were from the RI Reentry Alliance, a group of community providers and people directly impacted by the criminal justice system working to envision and build a more responsive and successful reentry system for Rhode Island.

As a follow up to the 2022 discussion, RINLA staff were invited to participate in the Center for Health and Justice Transformation’s (CHJT) Reentry Simulation for Rhode Island Employers.  CHJT is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to advance health equity in the criminal justice system. Since 2020, CHJT, who leads the Reentry Alliance, has been leading The Campaign for a JUST Rhode Island (JUST RI) seeking to transform criminal justice in our state into a less punitive system. They are working to decriminalize and destigmatize addiction, mental illness, and poverty, while preparing individuals and communities for reentry. This is the work to mitigate the collateral consequences conviction and incarceration have on communities and individuals. 

The simulation was a unique opportunity to learn about the particular obstacles facing individuals upon release, specifically during their immediate four weeks post-release. Each participant was given the role of fictional persona and had to make it through four weeks of life’s obligations, working with the meager assets they were given at the beginning of the simulation, with the number one priority being to stay out of jail. RINLA staff received an eye-opening education as to the seemingly near impossible task of having to take care of one’s self while readjusting to the everyday demands of community life and attending to the judicial requirements imposed on reentry. The staff of the Center for Health and Justice Transformation led participants through a series of slides to promote a better understanding of the urgency and reward of practicing fair chance hiring at the conclusion.

Some factoids from the event include 1 in 3 adults, or 70 million people, living in the United States have a criminal record. Half of all Americans have family members who have been incarcerated. Mass incarceration also disproportionately impacts people of color, people with disabilities, and people of lower economic status. There are also more than 44,000 local, state and federal restrictions placed on people with convictions, which is referred to as the “collateral consequences” on communities and individuals. Looking at race, Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of White Americans. With respect to socioeconomic status, the median income of individuals prior to incarceration is 41% lower than the income of those never incarcerated. 

Regarding hiring practices, present research indicates only 3-5% of managers and Human Resources professionals report actively recruiting workers with criminal records. It also suggests that hiring biases can perpetuate economic inequalities, showing that more than 60% of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed a year after their release from prison. Also, data shows that men with a criminal record account for 34% of unemployed men in America who are of prime working age.

As RINLA staff continues to work expanding a pipeline of qualified entry level workers for the industry, we believe working with an organization like the Center for Health and Justice Transformation might benefit the effort by engaging with the collective support across different sectors of our economy, from educators and social service agencies to professional organizations to engage a population of potential workers that have been historically or systematically overlooked. Continued work with the staff of CHJT is likely to promote the understanding that practicing fair chance hiring can greatly increase employers’ odds of finding the right worker. That shaping hiring policies to fit the job being offered, and effectively removing barriers for job applicants, can increase the chances of finding the right talent for your workplace.

Please reach out to Mason Billings, Program Associate and Resources Coordinator for RINLA, if you would like to know more about this cause or attend the next Reentry Simulation for Employers. You can contact me at resources.rinla@gmail.com, or (413) 684-8094.

Written by Mason Billings

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