A Q&A with the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board director on the benefits of hiring justice-involved individuals

Workers at a construction site
Employers can gain skilled labor by not asking about a history of involvement with the criminal justice system--or be willing to overlook it.

by Anne Stokes

N&R Publications recently sat down with Katie Greaves, director of the Sonoma County Workforce investment Board, to get her take on the advantages for employers who participate in the Prison to Employment Initiative.

Why should employers consider hiring justice-involved workers?

Employers should considering hiring justice-involved workers because just like any other job seeker out there, individuals involved in the justice system have in-demand skills and work experience that could add value to the business. Additionally, I think of businesses as a core part of a healthy and vibrant community. It is a shared responsibility of the entire community to accept and support its members, including those who have lost their way but are trying to make it back into the mainstream economy and society. Therefore, a business can further its own mission and bottom line by hiring individuals involved with the justice system while also engaging in the protective fabric of the community at large.

“Small business employers may be the best suited to having a successful employment arrangement with a justice-involved individual.”

Katie Greaves, director of the Sonoma County Workforce investment Board

What are some common concerns employers have when hiring formerly incarcerated job candidates?

When considering hiring formerly incarcerated job seekers, employers tend to be concerned about the safety of their workforce, the reliability of the candidate, the anti-social interpersonal skills that may have contributed toward committing the crime or have been reinforced in jail, and may have general biases stemming from the type of crime committed. They worry about how much effort it would take to train the individual and to monitor (or) correct behaviors, e.g. showing up on time, customer service, communication, etc.

How can hiring justice-involved workers benefit small business employers?

Small business employers may be the best suited to having a successful employment arrangement with a justice-involved individual. The fact of having fewer employees and possibly a more flexible arrangement may equate into a more supportive one-on-one relationship where personalized training can occur and tailored supports provided to address the unique barriers the employee faces. This is especially possible when the individual is also participating in workforce services at the local one-stop employment center; the business can really lean on the workforce program to help with job coaching and supportive services.

Katie Greaves, director
Sonoma County
investment Board

What kinds of obstacles do many formerly incarcerated job seekers face?

In addition to myriad concrete obstacles like lack of housing, transportation and up-to-date skills training or work experience, formerly incarcerated job seekers also experience a lack of a social support network that many of us who have never been involved in the justice system take for granted. We have family and friends who can help us navigate the job market, give us tips and referrals to hiring managers, and even help us with transportation and a place to live. Individuals coming out of prison or county jail are often isolated and possibly estranged from their family and friends. Add this to the anti-social behavior that led to committing a crime to begin with and you have a person who has to overcome mountains to find a job, gain mastery at it and retain it. Not to mention the shame that goes along with the history and the heavy scrutiny they receive from employers who see them as a big risk.

What can employers do to create more inclusive hiring practices?

Employers can start by not asking about history of involvement with criminal justice system, waiting until the very end to ask that question. Or alternatively, if asking up front, not letting the answer deter the hiring manager from going further with the hiring process and instead using that information to better understand what the company would have to put in place in order to assist the individual with being successful in the job.

How does hiring justice-involved workers benefit the local economy and community at large?

Having a job is one of the most “pro-social” activities a formerly incarcerated person can be involved in, meaning it is directly correlated to low recidivism. Individuals who have succumbed to drugs or other criminal activities are naturally marginalized by the community and so their re-entry into the community is doubly important both for them as well as the community. When a business hires an individual who was incarcerated and commits to training and supporting their professional growth, it signals to the community that this person is worthy of the community’s acceptance and support. And just as importantly, just because someone has a “background” does not mean that they don’t have skills and experience that can convert to profit for the business. Just as any investment in workforce, a business hiring a justice-involved individual taps into talent that could drive the company’s revenues up.

Are there any resources for employers looking to include more justice-involved workers in their workforce?

In Sonoma County, Job Link of Sonoma County has staff specifically trained in working with individuals involved in the justice system in their job search, training and placement. These vocational counselors work with and support, including financially, employers hiring individuals with barriers. Job Link’s goal is to make the work experience positive for the job seeker and successful for the business.

For more information, visit https://sonomawib.org/

About North Bay Employment Connection 28 Articles
North Bay Employment Connection is a collaborative of the Solano & Sonoma County Workforce Development Boards, and newly formed joint powers authority Workforce Alliance of the North Bay (Napa-Lake, Marin & Mendocino counties). As a collaborative, NBEC and its core partners are dedicated to supporting businesses in key North Bay industry sectors, and making smart investments for the region’s workforce systems. Over $12 million has been secured in competitive state and federal grants to enhance NBEC’s capacity to serve the employer and job-seeker communities.