Baltimore-area business, civic and nonprofit leaders, in a new report, are advocating for the removal of barriers to jobseekers with criminal records, something second-chance advocates say is part of a surprising shift in attitudes in recent years.
The Coalition for a Second Chance’s findings, released Thursday, are intended to serve as a blueprint of strategies for businesses and government organizations to address barriers to employment for citizens reentering society after incarceration or individuals with criminal records.
“It is clear that to increase the quality of life and help Baltimore residents reach their full potential, public, nonprofit, and private sector leaders must work together to construct a collaborative framework for removing or mitigating the many barriers to employment faced by city residents – particularly those with criminal backgrounds – and increase opportunities,” the coalition states in the executive summary of the report, “Opening Doors to a Second Chance.”
The coalition was convened by the Greater Baltimore Committee to address employment access issues in Baltimore’s communities in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray and widespread unrest in Baltimore in 2015.
“Increasing opportunities is a win for everyone,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the GBC. “I don’t really see any downside to the business community.”
Studies frequently link stable employment and a decreased likelihood of re-offending, according to Fry, and the business community can play a part in reducing recidivism by becoming more aware of the problems jobseekers face.
“If we’re successful in addressing this better, we’re going to have reduced recidivism,” he said.
Caryn York, senior policy advocate for the Job Opportunities Task Force and member of the coalition, said her organization is excited about the report because it shows that issues community organizations have emphasized for years now are being prioritized in the business community.
“This was right on the heels of the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray which also coincided with the year that Maryland finally moved forward with adopting expansive expungement laws,” she said. “It was perfect timing for the conversation to be expanded into the boardrooms and provide an opportunity for the conversation to no longer be led by your advocates and community organizations but by your business leaders.”
York and other advocates for the reduction of barriers to employment have seen increased support from the legislature as research shows the impact of a criminal record on job seekers, their families and communities. The Justice Reinvestment Act, passed in the last legislative session, seeks to reduce the prison population and used the savings to rehabilitate offenders and prevent crime.
In addition, recent legislation has shielded certain, nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after conditions are met, removed the subsequent conviction rule for expunging records if there is a conviction on a later charge and the expungement of crimes no longer criminalized, according to the report.
“It’s almost a game-changer because you’re now having the discussion advanced by a prominent group of business leaders,” York said.
D’Anne Avotins, employment services coordinator for GEDCO, a community services organization, said more people with criminal records are getting jobs. Avotins also said the campaign to “ban the box” which asks for criminal and arrest record information on job applications has helped people get to the interview stage to make an impression on an employer.
“Once they get the job, it’s an opportunity that they don’t screw up,” she said. “These people becomes better employees than their counterparts because this job means more to them because they can’t just go out and get another job.”
Fry said the report will be part of a long-term effort to increase opportunities for jobseekers with criminal backgrounds, including an aggressive public education campaign for businesses to explain the barriers, how to help citizens overcome them and the success companies have hiring people with criminal records.
“We can all benefit by opening those doors a little wider,” Fry said.