Churches Are Helping Former Inmates Find Work—and It’s Going to Drop Recidivism

BJ Opportunity Bell- white female 1

The latest jobs report sends a clear message to people seeking work: America is hiring. Despite worries of a slowdown, the economy added 266,000 jobs in November and unemployment returned to a 50-year low.

But America isn’t hiring for everyone. The job market isn’t so welcoming for the 70 million Americans—that’s about one in every three people—who have some type of criminal record. A history with the justice system makes it near impossible to begin a career. This is especially true for industries with licensing and other regulatory requirements.

The 650,000 Americans leaving prison each year want to contribute to society. But with no job prospects, two-thirds will lose hope and return to jail. We can do more to connect returning citizens with work that restores dignity and prevents recidivism—and now is the time to do it.

Employers are warming up to the idea of hiring people with nonviolent criminal records. A national survey conducted by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) found that 74 percent of managers and 84 percent of HR professionals are willing to hire individuals with criminal records.

The time is right to help former inmates find work—but we can’t expect the government to get it done. Lowering recidivism needs to start at the community level, and it takes the faith and service of the local church.

Churches are the best places to hold a job fair. They help neighbors find work in a setting of kindness and celebration. They understand that people are complicated, and encourage businesses to give applicants the opportunity to share their stories.

The church-driven job fair model works. With the support of Better Together, churches across America have helped more than 17,000 job seekers overcome significant barriers to work, including nonviolent criminal records.

Job interview rates exceed 100 percent at each event, and one-in-four attendees leave with a job offer. It’s easy to get stuck on the statistics, but these aren’t just numbers. These are real people looking to turn their lives around.

One of these job seekers was a young woman named Alyssa, who entered a Second Chance job fair with a history of opiate addiction and a criminal record. She introduced herself to a local HR manager whose company had policies on the books prohibiting Alyssa from working there.

Then something incredible happened. After hearing Alyssa’s story and receiving encouragement from the church, the HR director made an exception and hired Alyssa on the spot. Alyssa was promoted twice within months on the job and trained for management.

Like many of our job seekers, Alyssa faced barriers to employment on paper. Most companies would have rejected her resume without given her a chance to share her story. But that face-to-face interaction inspired the director to look beyond Alyssa’s past, and toward her potential—and it all happened at church.

December 2020: A Nationwide Day of Second Chances

On Dec. 10, 2020, a coalition of churches, local businesses, and other community partners will help thousands of Americans become productive members of society through a Nationwide Day of Second Chances.

Together, we will serve more than 10,000 returning citizens and people facing other barriers to work in major cities across the United States in the course of a single day. We hope all willing volunteers will find an event happening nearby and join us.

The best way for Americans to help lower recidivism is to join the Second Chance movement and equip church volunteers to do what the church does best—restore hope and faith in communities and keep families strong.

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