Every year, U.S. prisons and jails release nearly 700,000 people back into society. Many leave prison with little more than the clothes on their back and enough money to cover a bus ticket or a few meals.
While there are opportunities for some people who are incarcerated to learn marketable skills or advance their education while serving their sentence, they are not widely available. And for those that don’t have a support system outside of prison, finding the resources they need for successful reentry into their communities may seem impossible. With few resources and minimal skills, finding gainful employment is difficult, even without the stigma of a criminal record. However, employment is a significant factor in reducing recidivism. This is why second-chance hiring is so important.
Also called fair-chance hiring, second-chance hiring is the practice of hiring individuals with criminal records. And since 2017, April has been designated Second Chance Month to raise awareness about the difficulties people with criminal records face when trying to reenter the workforce and their communities. Founded by Prison Fellowship, the largest nonprofit serving people impacted by incarceration, the event aims to drive policy change and to encourage more and better opportunities for people with criminal records. This is the first year that Second Chance Month has been officially observed in the U.S., as President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation formally recognizing the event in March.
As the executive director of a nonprofit enabling better opportunities for women impacted by incarceration and a second-chance success story myself, Second Chance Month is my favorite time of the year. While the importance of second-chance hiring is coming into focus for employers, it isn’t a topic that often gets the attention it deserves. And it deserves attention because one-third of all U.S. working-age adults have a criminal record, per the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). We are also seeing that women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population and unfortunately, they have access to fewer services than incarcerated men.
More than 81,000 women are released from prison every year. They are often the primary or only breadwinner and caregiver, so being able to find stable, well-paid employment is vital. This is why Televerde Foundation was founded in 2020. Headquartered in Arizona, Televerde Foundation is a nonprofit providing career development, job placement, and life skills training to incarcerated women. Our mission is to help currently and formerly incarcerated women succeed in the global workforce and we’ve made incredible progress in two years. In 2021, 56 women participating in our Career PATHS program were released from prison out of 76 total program graduates. The remaining 20 graduates are awaiting release.
Career PATHS is a six month online, in-person and virtual workforce development program that provides incarcerated women the training, development and certification necessary to become customer service, inside sales and technology professionals. Our PATHS Reentry and PATHS2 Success transitional support programs then ensure the women have everything they need to develop rewarding careers. This includes everything from a starter kit of essential hygiene products and dental care provided by our partners to peer mentorship, scholarships and ongoing training and educational opportunities. To date, we have seen a 93% employment rate and a 32% increase in salary pre- to post-incarceration for graduates of the program. Most importantly, there has been zero recidivism, which is remarkable given that the Arizona recidivism rate is 40 percent.
The work we do at Televerde Foundation aims to show employers that opening job opportunities to people impacted by incarceration gives them access to a considerable pool of skilled and capable talent. And in doing so, they are giving these individuals the resources they need to be self-sufficient, decreasing the likelihood that they return to prison. Many people with a criminal record, including the women we serve, work hard every day to prove they are much more than the crime they committed.
Second Chance Month is the perfect time to break the stigma around people with a criminal record. But to do that, we must first accept that people cannot be defined solely by their worst decision. Because a crime is something a person committed, not who they are.
Michelle Cirocco is the chief social responsibility officer for Televerde, executive director for the Televerde Foundation.