Ohio Sen. Rob Portman began the discussion. Portman, who co-authored the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law in 2008 and supports state and local re-entry programs to reduce recidivism, discussed how laws like this one have positively impacted not just workers re-entering the workforce, but employers, too.
“The overall and vast majority of the people I have talked to around the state who have taken that chance and have engaged with places like the Chamber and with the Re-Entry Development Initiative at the Chamber come back and say this is a really great experience,” says Portman.
For employers who have not yet opened their hiring pool to people with a criminal history, it’s important to note that many people who are given a second, third, etc., chance at employment often build strong bonds with their employer. They often view their employer as helping them to “get back on their feet” and begin to support themselves and their families again following incarceration.
“You will help to change somebody’s life and, you know, maybe many people’s lives,” Portman says.
But these aren’t the only benefits of hiring second chance workers. It saves taxpayer money, it helps people get out and stay out of the justice system, and it makes communities better. Portman began to work on legislation for second chance hiring after he learned that, at the time, two-thirds of people who left the prison system ended up back in after two to three years.
“When people hear that, they think, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a revolving door.’ And it is, and the notion is this is terrible for everybody,” says Portman. “It’s certainly bad for the community because it’s another crime that’s typically committed for the person to go back, and crime rates are higher than they should be. It’s certainly bad for the individual and the family – rather than finding a job and getting back on their feet and getting the skills training that they need or the drug treatment or mental health treatment to stay in the system. And it’s terrible for taxpayers, because guess what? It costs about $25,000 to $35,000 a year to incarcerate someone, in some systems it’s more than that.”
Instead, Portman says, second chance hiring is an opportunity to successfully reintegrate someone back into society.
Then, Toledo Chamber President and CEO Wendy Gramza introduced Cathy and Ron Tijerina, founders of The RIDGE Project. Ron was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit in 1991 and spent 15 years wrongfully incarcerated. But it wasn’t just Ron who was affected; Cathy struggled in her own career as a result as well, facing discrimination and stereotypes in the workplace. Their work with The RIDGE Project focuses on healing families and strengthening them as they move through the prison system.
Cathy says she came from a family that never had to experience what prison, or what growing up with a family member in the prison system, was like, so when Ron was incarcerated it was “a complete shock.” Then, the Tijerinas realized how many other families were just like theirs, and they knew they had to help.
“We learned firsthand what the struggles were, what it meant to overcome, to protect our children, to try to build a new legacy for our kids, and even though Ron was the one in prison, I really struggled with employment,” says Cathy. “When we think about the impact of families, it’s not just the person that goes to prison, but their family is impacted and their family is labeled and carries this label.”
Ron and Cathy now fight not just to help families recover and move forward from the experience of having a family member in the prison system, they also fight against the stereotypes and labels that are assigned to those families and individuals.
Watch a recording of the Oct. 6 Talent Resource Week session on REDI: Re-Entry Development Initiative below: