Second Chance Summit: Busting The Myths
In 2005, after 15 years in prison, David Dahl was welcomed back into the family bakery, known for its organic ingredients, by his older brother Glenn.
Dave began to tinker with a recipe of his own, and soon developed Dave's Killer Bread, the top organic bread in the United States.
Today, the bakery employs 300 people, a third of whom have criminal backgrounds. And it's a model for and a leader in the movement the company calls "Second Chance Employment."
But not everyone leaving prison finds such support, let alone commercial success. Many struggle to find any employer willing to hire them. That's why the company started the Dave's Killer Bread Foundation, which works to spread the second chance employment message to companies across the nation.
Earlier this month, the organization hosted a Second Chance Summit in San Francisco. Hundreds of people from nonprofits, businesses (including GoodHire), and government organizations attended.
The goal of these summits is to convince local employers to hire people who have "criminal resumes." They appealed to the heart, destroyed myths, and gave real numbers.
Here are some highlights.
Criminally Good Stories of Second Chances
Redemption stories hit hard. While speakers recounted the most difficult times of their lives and their struggle to make amends, tears welled up in the eyes of a sympathetic audience.
"The moments he's happiest are when he's working." That observation from Jessica Jackson Sloan, cofounder and national director of #cut50, came with the acknowledgment that for her ex-husband, work is hard to find. As an electrician who needs to go into people's homes, the six years he spent in prison related to his methamphetamine addiction remain a heavy burden.
That's one of the reasons she founded #cut50 with attorney and CNN pundit Van Jones. The bipartisan organization works to reduce the incarceration rate in the U.S. by 50% by 2020.
In a highly anticipated session, Jones took the stage to address risks associated with hiring second chancers. He argued that there's evidence that the market rewards risk — just look at the last two elections.
Jones revealed that his greatest hire ever was also the biggest gamble: Shaka Senghor. Senghor had just finished a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder when Jones hired him as director of strategy at #cut50. Today, he's a renowned speaker, author of Writing My Wrongs, and an MIT Media Lab Directors Fellows alumnus.
Debunking The Myths
Empathy-building stories work at live events. However, the second chance employment mission won't succeed unless it confronts the realities business owners face.
The most common objection from employers? That hiring people with criminal records could open them up to negligent hiring lawsuits, increase insurance rates, and leave them with an irresponsible employee. Speakers addressed each of these concerns.
Lawsuits. Michelle Rodriguez of the National Employment Law Project was quick to debunk the first myth. Negligent hiring lawsuits are rare, she said, and they only succeed when the offense for which negligence is claimed is similar to the employee's criminal record.
High insurance rates. Adam Harris, vice president of LaPorte Insurance, took on the second. He reminded the audience that making insurance packages is an art, not a science. According to Harris, there is no automatic deduction for having a person with a criminal record on staff. As long as you appear to be a well-run business, you'll get a good rate.
Irresponsible employees. Up to 70% of Columbus, Ohio-based Hot Chicken Takeover's workforce has a record. These employees, according to founder Joe DeLoss, are loyal, hard working, and appreciative because they had so much to lose. The numbers back him up. In the food industry, typical turnover rates are in the high seventies. At Hot Chicken Takeover, the retention rate is 77%. Anyone who knows how difficult it is to keep hiring and training new staff can appreciate that number. The reason? For many employees the job isn't just a way to make a living, it's a demonstration their ability to change – and a way to back to their families.
In another panel, GoodHire's Attorney and FCRA Analyst Elizabeth McLean pointed out that hiring people with criminal histories is not only okay legally, not hiring them could be problematic. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, blanket policies against hiring people with criminal records is discriminatory because our criminal justice system is discriminatory (think about that for a minute). "We have to wake people up to the actual laws around this," McLean said. You can watch the livestream of McLean's panel here.
But Does It Really Work?
Employers may appreciate the social good that comes from this type of hiring and may even recognize that it's not dangerous. But businesses have a responsibility to their employees and customers. They need to see the business benefit.
While case studies like Hot Chicken Takeover help, only a few research studies have tackled this question. Dave's Killer Bread announced that they're commissioning a new study to compare employees who have criminal records and those who don't on standard performance metrics such as punctuality, performance scores, and workplace incidents.
Hiring people with criminal records is clearly good for the world. Now we need more data to show that it's good for business.
Dave's Killer Bread is putting a call out to employers who have hired people with criminal records to enter the study. If you work for a business that has hired second chancers, email firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.
If you're not hiring second chancers, what are you waiting for?