How have our past three presidents helped former felons

Review of how President Trump, Obama and Bush have made assisting former felons with reentry resources a priority for their administrations.

Presidents helping ex felons

In 2008, the NY Times noted that there was a shift in attitudes towards prison reform with a growing embrace for re-entry programs. Recognizing the need to reduce recidivism, politicians aligned with faith and community groups to make a difference through second chances. The Bush administration made rehabilitation a central goal of the federal justice system. In a sign of how far the pendulum had began to swing, the measure passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. Thankfully this effort has continued with the Obama and Trump administrations. What can the formerly incarcerated, prospective employers and community supporters learn from the efforts of our past three presidents?

President Trump’s First Step Act to provide former felons with reentry programs

“Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption.”

– President Donald J. Trump

According to the White House briefing on The First Step Act, The Trump Administration is committed to helping prisoners successfully rejoin society after their release. They have proposed over $500 million for programs including: reentry programs, inmate education, and occupational training programs through the Department of Justice. As well as, funding to improve employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated adults and young adults through the Department of Labor.

President Obama’s Fair Chance Business Pledge to provide former felons with access

“Now, a lot of time, [a] record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society — even if you’ve already paid your debt to society.  It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job much less actually hang on to that job.  That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.  It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed.  So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.” 

– President Barack Obama

President Obama created The Fair Chance Business Pledge. The pledge represents a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second hance. Along with the pledge, Obama’s administration is promoting a rule from the Office of Personnel Management that will “ban the box,” delaying inquiries into criminal history until later in the federal hiring process. Obama’s efforts were met with eager support from many huge companies who signed with the intent to give the formerly incarcerated a second chance.

Why do former felons need the support of the president?

Around 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record — almost one in three Americans of working age. Too often, that record disqualifies individuals from being a full participant in their communities — even if they’ve already paid their debt to society. As a result, millions of Americans have difficulty finding employment. 

President George W Bush and the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative

“America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”

– President George W. Bush

President Bush announced his Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (PRI) designed to assist ex-prisoners and the communities to which they return. Building upon the Ready4Work project developed by The Department of Labor. Ready4Work provides mentoring and transition services for those re-entering society from prison through partnership with faith-based and community organizations. According to the White House, findings show that Ready4Work participants returned to prison at rates 44 percent lower than the 10.4 percent national rate of re-incarceration after one year of release.

Then secretary of Labor Elaine Chow stated, “We know that the long-term financial costs of re-incarceration far exceed the cost of reentry programs. But that isn’t even the most important reason. The heaviest cost is the loss of human dignity when people are living lives of poverty, addiction, and despair. We must — and we can — break that cycle. And faith-based and community organizations possess unique and invaluable strengths to help us reach out to those most in need.”

Helping former felons reintegrate requires a group effort

While it is difficult to find consensus on political issues, the policies of our past three presidents and bi-partisan efforts in those congresses, we can see the need to work together on this issue. Recidivism is extremely costly when the victims, damages and recurrence are tallied together. The toll of crime on families, communities and our nation as a whole is extensive. When we stop to take a look at how we treat offenders, we can join with our past three presidents in asking whether our approach to crime is making a positive impact. Through resources such as United Purpose Network, the formerly incarcerated, their families and communities can work together to unlock the keys to success.

Advantages of hiring felons

Advantages to hiring felons
Photo by Pixabay

Richard Bronson went from being a felon to making it his life’s mission to provide job opportunities to those with criminal backgrounds. His organization 70 Million Jobs is hard at work making this vision a reality. If employers want to find competitive advantages, they must think outside of the box. By taking a chance on giving second chances when considering hiring felons, companies are finding success. Bronson and others have shared advantages to employer who take a chance on applicants with a criminal history.

Reasons employers should take a chance on hiring felons:

  1. Structure: Ex-felons have been in a system where they are used to taking and following orders
  2. Appreciation: They are in a position where they are appreciative for opportunities to improve themselves
  3. Success Rates: According to CNBC, executives say 82 percent of their ex-offender hires have been at least as successful as their average hire.
  4. Attention: They know the value of the opportunity and are careful not to mess things up
  5. Retention: Recent research has found that employees with records are retained at higher rates than those without criminal histories
  6. Recidivism: Nearly 80% of those released from jail or prison will be re-arrested within five years. Un-employment is a primary factor. People with jobs, on the other hand, almost never recidivate.
  7. Economic Impact: According to the Huffington Post, employers can make a considerable difference in transforming a criminal liability into a community asset.
  8. Inclusion: Companies such as McDonalds and Delta Airlines are hiring ex-cons as part of their inclusion strategy.
  9. Bonding: The U.S. Department of Labor provides a Federal Bonding Program which provides insurance for at-risk employees for the first six months of employment at no cost to the employee or employer
  10. Availability: With unemployment being low, many companies are struggling to recruit and retain employees, when employers open themselves to the possibility of second chances they open a whole new labor pool for their organization.
  11. Federal Tax Incentives: Through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for employers who hire and retain ex-felons. Under this program if an employee works at least 120 hours a year, a company can claim a 25 percent tax credit of their first year’s wages and 40 percent if he or she works 400 hours.
  12. Local Tax Incentives: Philadelphia’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative provides a cash reimbursement to employers who hire felons that have been released from prison within the past five years.
  13. Community: Hiring returning citizens tells your employees and the cities and towns in which you do business that you care about providing second chances.

Hiring felons could be a growth move for your organization.

Employers are constantly sharing their dismay at their inability to recruit workers. If as many as 1/3 of adults in the United States have a criminal record, then there is a lot of untapped potential that is being underutilized in the workplace. According to Lucius Couloute, who serves as a policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative, “This isn’t a problem of aspirations, it’s a structural problem involving discrimination and a lack of opportunities available to people who have been to prison.” Greyson is a bakery in New York that is at the forefront of zero discrimination through open hiring. CEO Mike Brady talks about investing in an apprenticeship program to provide employees the skills to succeed. He notes that they let a lot of people go, but they have also experienced returns, “I see the ROI is in tremendous loyalty, productivity and culture,” 

Body language is key to interview success

When we communicate with each other words are only one piece of the interaction. Our body language includes how we are sitting, eye contact and facial expression. Being mindful of these items is key to success in an interview. According to the organization Jails to Jobs, It is said that the impression you make is based just 7% on the actual words you use and 38% on the tone, pitch, volume and rate of your speech and 55% on your body posture, clothing, facial expressions and gestures.

Tips for body language interview success

We have researched various sites that provide information to job applicants. Here are some of the top recommendations for body language interview success:

  • Be professional from the time you enter the parking lot to the time you leave the premises
  • Treat everyone you meet with respect
  • Turn your cell phone is off
  • Give a second check that your clothes are straight
  • Mirror the tempo and demeanor of whomever you are addressing
  • Make a confident entrance
  • Make eye contact
  • Smile
  • Give a firm handshake, neither bone crushing nor limp fish  
  • Have your resume and paperwork ready
  • Practice good posture, sit up straight with an open chest
  • Don’t fidget with your hands
  • Calm your nervous ticks such as touching your face, chewing on nails, knuckle cracking, foot tapping, etc.
  • When using your hands to communicate, keep them in your chest area
  • Keep your eyes steady, don’t wander around the room
  • If it’s a panel interview, look at everyone, focus on the person asking the question when appropriate
  • When it is time to leave, get up confidently and calmly
  • Remember to be professional all the way until you leave the premises

7 body language tips to impress at your next interview

The job market is competitive, you want to ensure you are using body language to your advantage. Your communication is 7% words, 38% vocal elements and 55% non verbal. Don’t allow your body language to disqualify you from your interview. If you have a criminal background, body language is important. Body language will help you to regain some ground and present yourself as a confident potential employee. Felons who are reintegrating into society can find resources through groups like 70 Million Jobs and United Purpose Network to help them achieve success.

Interview body language techniques

From Felon to 70 Million Jobs

Employment opportunities for felons is good for families, victims and society

We often glamorize stories like The Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio who plays the notorious ring leader of the Stratton Oakmont, Jordan Belfort. Stratton was expelled by the NASD in 1996. Belfort was indicted for securities fraud and money laundering in 1999. During it’s heyday, the company employed over 1,000 stockbrokers. One of these stockbrokers was Richard Bronson who shares his story in the video below. Bronson was charged with financial crimes and served two years in prison. As noted by the creators of the video, Freethink,

“While incarcerated, his eyes were opened to the inequities prisoners faced – and how daunting re-entry to society was. He decided to do something about it. He started the website 70 million jobs, with the aim of getting everyone leaving prison not only employment, but a career.”

The difficulty for felons to find a job

Finding a job can be difficult enough. Finding a job with a criminal record can seem almost impossible for most ex-felons working to reintegrate back into society. Bronson’s organization 70 Million Jobs works to be a reliable resource for those looking to improve their employment opportunities. Felons can find help with resumes and finding local job listings from companies ready to hire applicants with a criminal background. In and interview with Forbes Magazine, Bronson is asked why he believes that felon’s should be given a second chance. Richard responds,

Having lived with hundreds of men in prison, I observed that as people they were no better or worse than those I knew on the outside. Mostly, they were folks who had very few options in life, and followed the path that others around them were following.

Advantages of giving jobs to felons

In the article and on his organization’s website, Bronson notes that there are some advantages when employers take a chance on an applicant with a criminal background:

  1. Structure: Ex-felons have been in a system where they are used to taking and following orders
  2. Appreciation: They are in a position where they are appreciative for opportunities to improve themselves
  3. Attention: They know the value of the opportunity and are careful not to mess things up
  4. Retention: Recent research has found that employees with records are retained at higher rates than those without criminal histories
  5. Recidivism: Nearly 80% of those released from jail or prison will be re-arrested within five years. Un-employment is a primary factor. People with jobs, on the other hand, almost never recidivate.
  6. Bonding: The U.S. Department of Labor provides a Federal Bonding Program which provides insurance for at-risk employees for the first six months of employment at no cost to the employee or employer
  7. Tax Incentives: Employers who hire workers with criminal records can reduce their federal income tax by as much as $9,600 per employee.
  8. Community: Hiring returning citizens tells your employees and the cities and towns in which you do business that you care about providing second chances.

Providing jobs for felons reduces recidivism

Recidivism refers to the likelihood that someone who has been incarcerated for a crime will return to those circumstances. The rates of recidivism are very high. Working together at the federal, state and community level to create opportunities for ex-felons is a benefit to all in society. Groups like 70 Millon Jobs and United Purpose Network are hard at work to promote resources for recycling lives. Richard speaks to the value of investing in opportunities for those with a criminal past:

Recidivism costs cities like Los Angeles tens of billions of dollars annually, destroys lives and families, erodes society, to say nothing of the impact on the new victims. We think that progressive cities and states are recognizing the economics of recidivism and are looking for business solutions. That’s our big opportunity over time. Employment is the silver bullet.