April is Second Chance Month, aimed at “recognizing the importance of helping individuals, communities, and agencies across the country appreciate their role in supporting the safe and successful reentry of millions of people returning from incarceration each year,” according to the National Reentry Resource Center.
For HR, Second Chance Month can be the perfect time to recommit to supporting formerly incarcerated individuals with efforts like second chance hiring, the practice of hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, which can help businesses amidst a tight labor market while also helping formerly incarcerated individuals rebuild, reducing their chance of recidivism.
Whether your company is struggling to find talent, looking to support the community or simply looking for some more education on the topic of reentry after incarceration, Second Chance Month can be the perfect time to re-commit to hiring efforts and supporting formerly incarcerated individuals.
The benefits of second chance hiring
Although Second Chance Month focuses on all parts of reentry, there’s an emphasis on the core parts of rebuilding and sustaining life outside of incarceration, including education, employment and housing. With around 600,000 individuals released from incarceration every year, a focus on supporting individuals to reenter society can help reduce the chance of recidivism.
One of the biggest struggles for formerly incarcerated individuals is finding stable employment, which gives them the financial means to move up in the world and get the support they need. Despite how essential employment is to reduce recidivism and help individuals reacclimate to society, six out of 10 formerly incarcerated individuals are jobless from the time of release to four years after release, according to the Chamber of Commerce. That means the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals hovers around 60%, compared to the 15% peak unemployment rate for the general population during the pandemic.
But second chance hiring doesn’t just benefit the individual. “Employers have long struggled, especially in rural areas, to fill open positions despite literally millions of Americans looking for work. Left unfilled, these open positions can mean substandard service, increased costs, and strain on your current employees,” says Megan Schulte, VP of HR at Frontier Co-op. “[Second chance hiring] helps us fill these roles with pre-screened candidates who our partners believe are capable and ready to come to work every day, learn new skills, and move their lives forward. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Considerations for HR during Second Chance Month
Despite the clear benefits for both employee and employer, second chance hiring can be hard to navigate as HR tries to balance keeping current workers comfortable, helping second chance hires acclimate and maintaining leadership buy-in.
For a truly impactful second chance hiring program, keep these considerations from Schulte in mind for Second Chance Month and beyond.
- Partner with experts. “There are inevitably non-profit organizations in your community filled with people who have dedicated their lives to helping the most vulnerable in our society. Reach out to them. Listen to them. Then work with them to figure out how you and your company can help based on your unique capabilities and hiring needs,” says Schulte. “Oftentimes, it’ll be things you don’t think of because many of us just don’t have the perspective to understand fully what these employees or candidates are going through upon reentry.”
- Tailor the program to fit unique business needs. Second chance hiring doesn’t mean just hiring anyone, regardless of criminal background. “Some people just aren’t ready to start moving forward and building their lives in a healthy way. Some people are facing a number of other barriers that they need to address before they can become a reliable and trustworthy employee,” says Schulte. “There are some offenses that we can’t overlook – for instance to ensure the safety of our staff we still don’t hire anyone who has a violent offense.”
- Provide support to second chance hires. All employees are facing challenges outside of work that you may not know about, but that’s especially true for second chance hires. “Sometimes this is something as complicated as finding housing or getting connected with substance abuse counseling or family counseling,” says Schulte. “In many cases, it could be something as simple as an advance on a paycheck to help them make ends meet while they’re getting back on their feet. Whatever it is, remember to listen and be open-minded about how your company can help.”
Further resources for Second Chance Month
Your efforts shouldn’t end when Second Chance Month does; instead, use the fire ignited during this month to keep it going all year long.
To look further into second chance hiring and Second Chance Month, consider checking out these resources:
- Employer Guide to Second Chance Hiring Programs and Tax Credits from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Building Community Partnerships, a resource guide to partnering with reentry and workforce organizations from The Manufacturing Institute
- Fair Chance Employment Self-Assessment from Envoy, and
- Second Chance Corporate Cohort from Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation.