GBC wants more hiring, workforce training for ex-offenders

December 8, 2016

Dec. 8, 2016, Baltimore Business Journal– The Greater Baltimore Committee released a report Thursday recommending businesses and government be more open to hiring ex-offenders and provide more resources for those exiting jail.

Returning citizens can face employment barriers including an inability to pass a background check, housing discrimination, lack of transportation access, stereotypes and employer reluctance, the report says. Such barriers leave ex-offenders with few options for re-entry and even lead some to return to criminal activity.

More than 20,000 people are imprisoned in Maryland, at a cost of almost $1 billion per year, the report notes. About 58 percent of incarcerated persons were convicted of nonviolent crimes and almost 71 percent are black. Baltimore City residents make up 36 percent of Maryland’s prison admissions, though it only accounts for 10 percent of the state’s population.

Combined, these factors place a large burden on Maryland and city taxpayers and create a culture that disenfranchises a large portion of Baltimore’s citizens, the report argues.

“This is an issue that has really been present in the community for quite some time,” said Donald C. Fry, CEO of the GBC, a business advocacy group. “And after the unrest of last year, we realized that one of the underlying issues has always been about jobs and economic opportunities, especially for this one segment of the community.”

The report was compiled after the GBC assembled representatives from the nonprofit, business, service provider, and local and state government communities to discuss potential solutions for improving outcomes for returning citizens. The representatives included Living Classrooms Foundation CEO James Piper Bond, Humanim CEO Henry Posko and John Cammack, an angel investor and former T. Rowe Price executive.

The new report details the impact of the incarceration system on Baltimore and its business community, outlining the struggles previously incarcerated citizens face when trying to re-enter the community and workforce.

Fry said advocacy groups and state officials have long been involved in efforts to improve conditions for returning citizens. But it is important for those efforts to extend into the business community, because that’s where the jobs and opportunities are going to come from, he said.

“I think this report really underscores how increasing opportunities for returning citizens is going to be a win for these citizens, a win for employers and really a win for the overall economic condition of our region,” Fry said.

The report offered several recommendations (some listed below) for how efforts around re-entry and employment of returning citizens could be improved in both the public and private sectors.

Form a “Reentry peerRecovery Network:” A network of returning citizens who work as peer recovery staff to connect recently released individuals to recovery support services, including housing, medical, mental health, child care, vocational training, employment, substance abuse, legal and financial services.

Align workforce training with employer needs: The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services should coordinate programmatic efforts to ensure workforce training programs in prisons are adequately aligned with the needs and expectations of employers. (The report recommends the GBC establish a task force to work departments in this effort).

Provide incentives: Provide procurement preferences for businesses seeking to do business with the state — for example, require contractors who are awarded state contracts to employ a certain percentage of returning citizens.

Improve internal company culture: Work with companies to adopt and promote internal practices, policies and training that make company cultures more open to hiring returning citizens — should include training on implicit bias, anti-discrimination policies, hiring practices, etc.

Better data collection: Identify a state agency that could appropriately collect data on private employers that routinely hire returning citizens in order to get a sense of how successful these hires are once employed, what jobs they are performing, how long they remain employed, and whether or not they are promoted or acquire additional skills or training.

Article written by Morgan Eichensehr