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This month I attended my local HR chapter (AHRM) lunch & learn on Diversity in the Workplace with a highlight on hiring returning citizens – or ex-offenders.  It was an interesting session in which the HR VP, Kenyatta Brame,  shared some of the successes Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, Michigan has had with its returning citizens program.

With “ban the box” movements on the rise (removing the conviction history question from job applications), employers have more of an opportunity to consider ex-offenders as employees, which may lead to lower percentages of re-offending, an outcome that will benefit society as a whole. 

Though ban the box efforts have been around since the 1990s, there is relatively little data to analyze about the outcomes of hiring returning citizens; and so the 30-2-2 initiative was developed in Grand Rapids: enlist 30 local companies to hire at least 2 ex-offenders for at least 2 years and start to collect some information about successes and pitfalls of the program.  The first round of the program is nearing the 2-year mark.

But, according to Kenyatta, the program at Cascade has already been successful.  By being open to hiring returning citizens, their candidate pool has greatly increased and they strive to foster a culture in which ex-offenders feel comfortable disclosing their status to their coworkers without fear of negative consequence.  The company encourages informal conversations and sponsors formal trainings about societal issues involving race, incarceration, and inclusion overall so that all their employees feel welcome and appreciated.

It’s an interesting proposition – allowing skills and qualifications to speak for themselves without a past in prison keeping a potentially excellent employee in a cycle of unemployment, re-offending, and re-incarceration.

Has your organization banned the box?  Why or why not? 

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Catherine Schmidt
Catherine Schmidt
Catherine Schmidt is a former member of the Purple Ink team. She has a special interest in career coaching and recruiting and finds joy when she can connect the right person to the right opportunity.

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