Bridging the gap to quality, livable wage jobs for formerly incarcerated workers

The Justice Reinvestment Coalition has worked hard in ensuring that the 1400 jobs for formerly incarcerated workers is seeing some progress and forward movement with help from Alameda County Administration toward our goal of 1400 jobs, but we need the Board of Supervisors to do more toward this effort. Two years ago on June 28th, 2016 the Alameda County Board of Supervisors made a groundbreaking commitment to create hundreds of quality, long-term, County jobs for formerly incarcerated community members through a program called “Jobs for Freedom.” This commitment came after community groups working together through the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County pushed the County to think creatively about how to create opportunities that help turn the tide on mass incarceration and help formerly incarcerated people transition out of the system successfully.

Over the last 5 years, Alameda County’s Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer jails have experienced a decreased average daily population of 1,400 beds per year due to community-led reforms to the criminal justice system and efforts to turn the tide on mass incarceration. Legislative advances like AB109, SB 678 and Proposition 47 have provided the impetus for such changes, yet research shows that without gainful employment, formerly incarcerated people are likely to reenter the system. Since the creation of the program, the county has currently hired 6 people with another 4 going into jobs in early September hired They have identified another 30 plus vacancies in the Program Worker classification that formerly incarcerated workers participating in the program can fill. Up to this point Alameda County has leveraged one private sector employer, a cold storage facility to participate in this program and that is expected to bring another 10–20 jobs this year alone. For us to get to 1400 jobs we need the county to leverage the relationships it has with other public and private employers to commit to hire formerly incarcerated residents into jobs as well.

People who have convictions or even arrests without conviction, face enormous barriers to employment. We know that incarceration leads up to a 30% decline in one’s chances of employment post release. We also know that 90% of employers utilize criminal background checks resulting in a 50% decrease in hiring callbacks for those with arrests or convictions on their record. And, there are hundreds of thousands of Alameda County residents who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

The Alameda County Re-Entry Hiring Program was approved in 2016 and we still need the Board of Supervisors to keep the promise of getting more employers that pay a livable wage to get involved in the program. Due to the county’s low turnover rate, we need more public and private employers to commit to hiring workers who have past participation in the criminal justice system.

In 2016, the Justice Reinvestment Coalition, consisting of 15 community and faith based organizations came together and served as a united front that helped gain victories in various criminal justice reform policies. During this period there were many JRC issues on the table that the organizations in the coalition were fighting at this time such as the ‘Sugar Tax’, AB109, Prop 47, and Ban-the-Box just to mention a few. The focus on a jobs campaign was important, as it brought to fruition many of the battles that were being waged at the time. This coalition’s push for Alameda County to step in as leader in providing employment that would allow formerly incarcerated people to earn a livable wage, was an uphill battle. Although the JRC had allies within the county, there were also many obstacles and barriers that made a seemingly simple process very difficult. Now with county’s hiring of a new HR Director Joseph Angelo, and the involvement of Probation Chief Wendy Still many of these obstacles are being overcome and the program is finally getting on track.

The initiative utilizes a proven model developed by folks that have experience navigating this system to provide leadership development, reduction of employment barriers, mentorship and court advocacy for participants that have continued contact with the criminal justice system. Building from successful employment models in Alameda County, the Jobs for Freedom Initiative has paved the way for programs such as Bay Area Black Worker Centers’ job readiness training referred to as the Northstar program and other community led job readiness programs to be a feeder to livable wage jobs in Alameda County as well as private employers that offer comparable jobs.

The JRC is moving closer to the goal of increasing access to quality, livable wage jobs for and reducing employment barriers for formerly incarcerated people in Alameda county. As we continue to partner with Alameda County, we need leadership from the Board of Supervisors to bring their public and private and sector allies in the to join as additional employers in order to increase the number of jobs workers can apply for. There are thousands of formerly incarcerated Alameda County residents who deserve the chance to have gainful employment and get their lives on track. It’s time to make the promise into a reality and take this program to scale!

- Keith Snodgrass

Bay Area Black Worker Center
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