Increasing economic mobility for people with criminal records

Report: The unveiling of a new policy framework that ‘normalizes opportunity’

Policy at the local, state, and federal levels often creates significant barriers to good jobs for people with criminal records.

“These barriers are an extension of the policies that create mass incarceration. With false narratives of the ‘super-predator’, we also get narratives of permanent criminality, that people who have been incarcerated or have a conviction are a permanent threat,” says Brandi Mandato, a senior director at the Center for Justice and Economic Advancement (CJEA), part of Jobs for the Future (JFF).

Brandi Mandato, senior director, JFF’s Center for Justice and Economic Advancement

“These perceptions motivate policy decisions. ‘Safety’ is typically the justification for the policies and practices that exclude people from employment. But people face exclusions long after they have been released from prison,” says Mandato.

CJEA has unveiled a framework – Normalizing Opportunity: A Policy Agenda to Promote Economic Advancement for People with Criminal Recordsdesigned to reduce those barriers for the “70 million people in the United States with criminal records.”

Mandato says it’s a win-win to consider people with criminal records for available jobs. “It’s good business. Employers need talent and people with records are an untapped talent pool. While there are employers who hire people with records, it does not take place at the scale that is needed.”

She continues, “It’s also good for society. There is an often-quoted number that there is a more than $87B loss in GDP from excluding these individuals from employment. This has a direct impact on communities, especially Black and Latinx communities where individuals are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates.”

‘Normalizing opportunity’

The framework identifies policy solutions for stakeholders to – as the report says – “normalize opportunity”:

  • Education, skills training, and career navigation to support people’s ability to acquire credentials, skills, and experiences that have value in the local labor market
  • Employment and wealth building solutions that expand access to capital to support entrepreneurial opportunities and encourage employers to adopt more inclusive and equitable practices
  • Mobility supports solutions to ensure that everyone has access to the foundational supports they need to focus on building skills, sustaining employment, and advancing economically
  • Essential infrastructure solutions that enhance the assets, networks, and structures needed to foster collective action for helping individuals and communities and advance economically
Optimistic About Second Chances

April is Second Chance Month, but Mandato notes it’s crucial to promote awareness year-round. She says, “CJEA is looking to affect change on the ground. We provide consulting and advising to employers to help them hire talented people regardless of conviction history. As part of this work, we offer training through our employer cohort training, virtual workshops, and individual corporate advising.”

Looking forward, Mandato is hopeful there can be changes in policy. “There are many reasons to be optimistic. These are barriers created by policy, so it is an area policymakers can impact. Even with a divided Congress, there is bipartisan support for policies that reduce mass incarceration and reduce barriers so people can get a ‘second chance’ in reentry.”

She adds, “It is also an issue that is important to constituents who support change and will benefit from it.”