Why Hire The Formerly Incarcerated?
6,800 Oaklanders on probation or parole
With the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center Project under way, much of the focus has turned to local hiring requirements included in the project’s Jobs Policy for Public Improvements.
The comprehensive jobs policy requires that, “at least 50 percent of Project Work Hours are performed by Oakland Residents, 20 percent of Project Work Hours are performed by apprentices, and that at least 25 percent of apprenticeships positions are filled by ‘disadvantaged workers’.”
Phil Tagami, the lead developer of the project, has taken special interest in one group of disadvantaged workers – formerly incarcerated individuals living in Oakland. Tagami views job creation for this population as one possible step in breaking the cycle of incarceration in Oakland.
“This is very simple. If an individual can’t find work, he can’t better himself and he can’t contribute to society,” Tagami said. “Employers have reasonable concerns about hiring ex-offenders, but they also have to look at the community in which they do business. Any city with a large numbers of people cycling through the prison system will have serious problems. We need to change that in Oakland.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2012, 1 out of 35 Americans were incarcerated in jails or prisons, or on parole or probation. Meanwhile, California accounts for over 10% of the national prison, jail, and parole populations, according to the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law & Social Policy.
Reports from the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, state that the city of Oakland is home to approximately 5,500 probationers and 1,300 individuals on parole. Recidivism rates for these groups are alarming: As stated in a report distributed by the Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable, two-thirds of people released from prison are re-arrested and 50 percent are re-incarcerated within three years of release from prison. California spends an average of $47,000 per prisoner annually.
Stable employment is a key determinant in whether a formerly-incarcerated individual will re-offend. Yet, national reports put the unemployment rate among this population between 45 and 97 percent.
The contractors on the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Project have already agreed to “ban the box” – a practice in which employers remove from job applications questions about previous convictions.
Proponents hope that this practice will help individuals get through the initial application and interview process based on their skills and experience, rather than be stigmatized by prior convictions. Tagami also hopes to partner with community organizations that already work closely with the formerly incarcerated to create job opportunities.
ROJE Consulting, the Oakland-based consulting firm hired to support contract compliance for the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center, sent thirty local re-entry organizations a short survey in early December. When asked about the benefits of hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, most survey participants stated a combination of the following: decreased cost to taxpayers; local economic benefits from increased spending and tax base; fulfillment of local hiring requirements; offering hope, family reunification, and futures filled with positive potential; and possible tax credits and/or low cost bonding programs.
Such sentiments are not isolated to organizations working directly with formerly incarcerated individuals. Former Secretary of Labor Hilda. L. Solis has said that, “Stable employment helps ex-offenders stay out of the legal system. Focusing on that end is the right thing to do for these individuals, and it makes sense for local communities and our economy as a whole.”