Who is a returning citizen?
“Returning citizen” and “justice impacted individual” are terms used to describe people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. These terms reflect a positive and holistic understanding, highlighting their potential for redemption and meaningful participation in society.
The median pre-incarceration income of people in state prisons is $19,185 and federal prisons is $25,844 per year. This is significantly lower than the median household income of $67,521 in the United States.
Returning citizens have difficulty finding employment after they are released from prison keeping them in poverty. This is due to a number of factors, including a criminal record, lack of education, and lack of job skills.
77M in USA have a criminal record
That’s 655 people per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the world. 65% are unemployed. That’s 15X higher than the 3.6% US average.
So many excel when given a second chance. For example:
– Robert Downey Jr, Academy Award Nominee
– Les Brown, Politician & Motivation Speaker
– Martha Stewart, Businesswoman
– Shelley Winner, Sales Exec at Microsoft
– Snoop Dogg, World Renowned Rapper
– Marcus Samuelsson, World Renowned Chef
1. Finding stable employment Problem
Many employers are hesitant to hire people with criminal records, even if the crime was non-violent and happened years ago. This can make it difficult for formerly incarcerated people to find a job and support themselves and their families.
Solution: Make it explicit that you welcome returning citizens in your organization. Further, offer a inclusion training like this one to your employees.
2. Securing Housing Problem:
Many landlords are hesitant to rent to people with criminal records, even if they have a good credit history and can afford the rent. This can make it difficult for formerly incarcerated people to find a safe and affordable place to live.
Solution: Organizations like Corporation for Supportive Housing, Community Solutions, and The Fortune Society, are nonprofit organizations that create and preserve affordable housing for people with special needs.
3. Rebuilding social connections Solution
Problem: Returning Citizens often face social isolation. They may have lost touch with friends and family while they were incarcerated, and they may find it difficult to make new friends after they are released. This can lead to loneliness, depression, and other mental health problems.
Solution: Businesses can develop mentorship programs to foster positive relationships.
People often stereotype people with criminal histories as being dangerous, untrustworthy, and lazy. This can lead to making assumptions about a person’s character based on their history, rather than getting to know them as an individual.
Solution: Be aware of it. Take some time to think about your own beliefs and attitudes about people with criminal histories. Once you are aware of your biases, you can start to work on overcoming them.
People may be afraid of people with criminal histories, especially if they have been the victim of a crime themselves. This fear can lead to people avoiding people with criminal histories or treating them with suspicion.
Solution: Get to know the person as an individual. Don’t make assumptions about a person based on their criminal history. Get to know them as an individual and learn about their strengths and weaknesses.
Problem: People may judge people with criminal histories for their past mistakes. This judgment can make it difficult for people with criminal histories to move on with their lives and find employment, housing, and other opportunities.
Solution: Be respectful and non-judgmental. Treat everyone with respect, regardless of their background. Avoid making assumptions or stereotypes about them. On the contrary, be supportive of them and offer them encouragement.
Skills that returning citizens likely develop as a result of their incarceration include:
Resilience: Returning citizens have often faced significant challenges in their lives, including incarceration. This can lead to the development of resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from setbacks.
Hard Skills: A returning citizen who has taken a carpentry class in prison may have developed the hard skills necessary to work as a carpenter.
Motivation: Returning citizens often have a strong motivation to succeed. They may have missed out on opportunities during their incarceration, and they may be eager to make up for lost time.
Discipline and Time Management: Incarceration requires a high degree of discipline. Returning citizens have often had to follow rules and schedules.
Should I know about their criminal history?
The best hiring process is blind.
Employers cannot refuse to hire someone because of their criminal history if the conviction is for a crime that is not related to the job, or if their conviction is more than seven years old. Interviewing without knowing the candidate’s personal information is key to reducing bias.
But be direct and honest.
Put the candidate at ease. Let the candidate know if you are aware of their criminal history and that you are not asking about it because you are judging them. Explain that you are asking about it because you want to understand how it might impact their ability to do the job.
Best practices for an Inclusive Interview
Ask candidates about accommodations that may be required to the interview schedule before work, during lunch, or after work. Start by building rapport.
Take some time to get to know the candidate. This will help them feel more comfortable, open, and honest during the interview.
The candidate may want to share their story with you. Listen with an open mind and without judgment.
Focus on their skills and experience. Don’t let their criminal history overshadow their skills and experience.
Ask them about their qualifications and how they would be a good fit for the job.
1. Technical Upskilling: when in prison, people don’t have easy access the internet or computers. Providing them access with modern technologies we routinely use would be helpful.
2. Flexible work hours and Telework: Returning citizens may need flexible work hours to accommodate child care, transportation, or other obligations.
3. Workplace support: Returning citizens may need support from their employer, such as mentorship or counseling.
Follow these Onboarding Best Practices
– Be welcoming and supportive
– Provide clear expectations
– Provide training and development opportunities
– Be flexible with work arrangements
– Provide access to resources
– Be patient and understanding
Be understanding and compassionate. Returning citizens may have faced a lot of challenges in their lives, and they may be feeling vulnerable. Let them know that you are there to help.
Be patient. It may take some time for returning citizens to adjust to their new life. Be patient and don’t expect them to be perfect right away.
Be positive. Returning citizens may need some encouragement. Be positive and supportive, and let them know that you believe in them.
Be a resource. Offer to help the person find a job that is a better fit for their skills and experience. You can also offer to provide them with feedback on their resume or interview skills.
Here are some of the federal tax breaks that are available to employers:
Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC): The WOTC is a federal tax credit that is available to employers who hire individuals from certain targeted groups, including returning citizens. The amount of the credit is equal to 40% of the first $6,000 of wages paid to the individual during the first year of employment. For example, if an employer hires a returning citizen and pays them $15,000 in wages during the first year of employment, the employer can claim a WOTC of $3,600.
The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act for Small Businesses: The HIRE Act is a federal tax credit that is available to small businesses that hire new employees who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. The amount of the credit is equal to 50% of the first $6,000 of wages paid to the new employee.
In addition, there are state tax breaks that could be leveraged to. Some include
California offers a tax credit of up to $2,000 for employers who hire returning citizens.
Florida offers a tax credit of up to $1,000 for employers who hire returning citizens who are also veterans.
Illinois offers a tax credit of up to $1,500 for employers who hire returning citizens who are also single parents.
New York offers a tax credit of up to $2,500 for employers who hire returning citizens who are also members of a minority group.
Texas offers a tax credit of up to $1,000 for employers who hire returning citizens who are also certified as homeless.