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Op-Ed: Looking Beyond the Background in Hiring

The following op-ed is written by Kentucky Chamber Vice President of Workforce Development Beth Davisson, ACLU of Kentucky Policy Strategist Amanda Hall, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy Policy Analyst Carmen Mitchell, and Right on Crime Director of State Initiatives Julie Warren

In April, folks from around the country celebrated Second Chance Month, an initiative dedicated to removing barriers to reentry after incarceration and showing compassion for those who are returning to our communities. April may be over but in a state such as Kentucky, we should be working every day to support our neighbors and ensure ALL Kentuckians have access to a bright future. Fortunately, there are ways that businesses and other organizations can get involved to help drive this important work.

Currently, Kentucky has some of the worst statistics in the country on incarceration, including being the state ranked 7th highest incarceration rate overall and 3rd-highest for parental incarceration. An important step for addressing the harms of incarceration - which are especially acute given that many people who end up being incarcerated were financially disenfranchised or had other problems such as mental health issues before they arrived - is to provide reentry support to those who are leaving.

When people return to their communities after release from jail and prison, it is critical they receive the support they need to get back on their feet. For people leaving incarceration, having access to employment is a crucial step for their successful return. Also essential are needs such as housing, health insurance, mental health services, and substance use treatment if needed. Otherwise, these individuals will be among the over one third of Kentuckians who will recidivate (return to incarceration within 24 months of release). 

Thanks to the work of advocates raising awareness of the importance and benefits of providing support to formerly incarcerated individuals, employers across various industries have become more open to second chance hiring. However, it remains a challenge for those individuals to find employment; an estimated 60% to 75% of those formerly incarcerated have difficulty attaining stable employment in the year following release.

There are opportunities and initiatives available to employers wishing to engage in second chance hiring. In 2020, The Kentucky Chamber Foundation launched the Kentucky Comeback Campaign to help Kentuckians struggling with substance-use disorder, assist businesses in developing recovery-friendly work environments, and engage Kentuckians interested in smart criminal-justice reforms. This campaign has seen nearly 13,000 second chance jobs for those with a justice-involved background, as Kentucky employers engage this an untapped talent pool. More information about this campaign can be found at Fair Chance Employment – Kentucky Comeback.

In addition to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s initiatives and other second chance employers’ work, Kentucky employers have an opportunity to apply for the Federal Bond Program (FBP). Established in 1966 by the U.S. Department of Labor, the FBP provides fidelity bonds to protect employers. These bonds are available at the Kentucky Career Center at no cost to Kentucky employers or job applicants. The bond covers the first six months of employment and has no deductible, so there is no out-of-pocket expense for businesses that participate. Employers also can extend coverage for an additional 6 months at no cost. Over the last 55 years, less than 1% of the bonds have ever been filed upon. That is because a good job is one of the primary factors in reducing recidivism. The FBP gives businesses that are considering fair chance employment peace of mind and improves lives in the process.

With employers searching for a quality workforce and many Kentuckians searching for a new life, there is no better time for employers to expand their fair chance hiring places. If you want to learn more about the FBP visit http://www.bonds4jobs.com/. Also, if you want to apply for a bond in Kentucky please email [email protected]. Treat every month and every day as an opportunity to provide a second chance. 

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