A single question on a job application can disrupt a returning citizen's future: Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
This question prohibits financial stability and denies returning citizens the sense of purpose they need to succeed as constructive members of their community. Although these people have served their time and have paid their debts to society, many societal implications of their actions will remain for years to come.
But organizations like Pioneer Human Services in Seattle, Washington, are trying to turn the tide by "giving individuals with a criminal history a chance for change." An applicant at Pioneer is not asked about their criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended. In fact, Pioneer intentionally recruits individuals with a criminal background and trains their human resources staff on making fair hiring decisions. Nearly 65 percent of Pioneer's enterprise workforce has a criminal history or is in recovery.
THE PIONEER APPROACH
Pioneer is prepared to provide a wide range of support to individuals with a criminal record. This support includes job-readiness training, housing support, and treatment options. They also encourage other companies to hire students from their job training programs. Pioneer is committed to this approach because, in their words, "No one wants to be judged for the worst mistake they made, for the rest of their life."
Take Lynette, for example. Lynette was not the type of candidate most employers recruit. Shortly after high school, Lynette became involved with drugs. She spiraled downward over the course of several years, eventually losing custody of her children and ending up in prison.
When released, Lynette came through Pioneer Human Services' training program and was hired by Pioneer Industries. Unfortunately, she relapsed and found herself back in jail. When Lynette was released, she was sent to Pioneer’s Helen B. Ratcliffe work release program. Open to giving Lynette a second chance, Pioneer accepted her into the Roadmap to Success job readiness training program. Pioneer hired her again after she graduated.
As Lynette said:
Pioneer gave me a second chance as they know that recovery is a journey and we don't all get it right the first time. … I have had 360 degrees of support from Pioneer. … This path isn’t easy, but I have worked really hard to get this far and I don't want to go back to my old ways. It's so important to me to achieve what I know I can be."
Lynette is currently focusing on her apprenticeship at work. She recently bought a car and is working on rebuilding her relationships with her children. According to Pioneer, she is an exceptional employee.
A WIN-WIN SITUATION
Pioneer has found that their willingness to invest in returning citizens like Lynette is not just rewarding for their employees; it has paid off for their business as well. As they describe, "returning citizens are hungry to learn, fiercely loyal, and some of the best workers in the industry." By hiring from this largely untapped pool of employees, organizations around the country can be a part of lifting up those with criminal records and giving them a second chance. It is a win-win-win for their business, returning citizens, and society as a whole.