The People's Forum

Local primary elections are on March 5th. Do you know who your candidates are for San Bernardino city council? Your issues matter. Your voice matters. Your vote is important! Get informed before you cast your vote.

More Than a Job: Job Access and Prison Re-entry

Since 1980, the majority of new prisons built to accommodate the expanding U.S. prison population have been placed in non-metropolitan areas, like San Bernardino county. Within the county, the incarceration rate has increased by 770% going from 798 inmates yearly to 6,944 inmates annually.8 The rapid prison and jail expansion between 1990 and 2012, were touted by policy makers as viable solutions to economic growth as well as public safety

There is a misconception that prisons bring more jobs to the communities where they reside. This is untrue for many reasons. First, many local residents in towns where prisons are located are often not eligible for those jobs for various reasons including their own criminal background. Secondly, there were no local hire/project construction labor requirements to create jobs for local residents in San Bernardino. Lastly, prison construction in the region has been followed by the construction of big box stores that flood the market with low paying jobs and drive out small businesses.”9

For San Bernardino policy makers, the focus on mass incarceration and prison expansion has also failed on the promise of public safety. With an over-investment in the business of punishment and under-investment in job and life skills for youth and adults, residents are denied the safety and security that is possible when people work and thrive in their community. Among the 4,223 respondents polled for this report, the majority strongly believed that there are more effective alternatives to jail and prison. These findings further illuminate a misalignment of priorities and values between the people and the city’s political leaders.

    Among the 4,223 respondents polled for this report, the majority strongly believed that there are more effective alternatives to jail and prison.

    Hearing from the People

    Of those polled, 1,190 reported that either themselves or a loved one had experienced incarceration. By and large, these respondents believe that, after serving their sentences, formerly incarcerated people should have the same opportunities for housing, jobs and schools as those without criminal records. On the question of improving conditions for people who have been impacted by the prison-system, 72.4% of respondents believed that formerly incarcerated people must have stable employment. However, the stigma associated with having a criminal record is one of the main barriers to formerly incarcerated people finding sustainable employment.

    When reintegrating, formerly incarcerated people are more likely to experience discrimination based on both their criminal record and their race. In a focus group interview with 8 formerly incarcerated people of mixed ethnicity, education level and employment status, participants affirmed their experience with this discriminatory practice. For instance, one woman discussed how she (a mixed-race woman) and her partner (a Black man) both inquired about the same job openings within a particular company. She explained that she was provided with information on how to apply, while her partner was told there were no openings. She also talked about filling out job applications for her partner and choosing not to mark his race as Black, thinking that this might help him get hired. She says, “he would get hired but [employers] would knock him out because of his [criminal] background.” This is not an isolated incident. Rather, this experience is a part of the common phenomenon of workplace discrimination for Black people returning home from incarceration.

    While many employers say that they are willing to hire formerly incarcerated people, a report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that having a criminal record reduces employer callback rates for formerly incarcerated individuals by 50%.10 Another focus group participant discussed feeling frustrated by only getting temporary jobs that lasted “for one day or two days, but nothing steady.” This presents a common, but complex, dilemma in which gainful employment for formerly incarcerated individuals is a necessity, while access to full time and long-term work is difficult to secure.

    Quality Jobs for Formerly Incarcerated (Returning People)

    When some formerly incarcerated people do get hired it is often not for long-term quality jobs. When asked how they define a quality job, focus group participants responded in the following ways:

    “A quality job is more than a good salary”

    “It is a pleasant workplace with people and leadership that represent our lived experience”

    “Ability to go to work and not feel like it is job because I enjoy it so much”

    “A job that allows for flexibility to understand unforeseen life emergencies.”

    “Everybody doing their part, that’s a good job. Everyone has a shared understanding of how to support each other…and balances work assignments and responsibilities.”

    “Meaningful work that makes a difference in the world.”

    “A job that opens opportunities for everyone to be considered for promotions, based on merit and not based on favoritism.”

    “A job that gives a sense of pride.”

    Success Through Employment and Skill Building

    Recent policy wins focused on prison decarceration mean that more ex-prisoners will be returning to San Bernardino County in the near future. Gainful employment helps returning people create economic stability after release and reduces the likelihood that they return to prison. This in turn, promotes greater public safety and contributes to a strong regional economy which benefits everyone. The following recommendations are informed by the experiences of people returning from prison and should be adopted in the region’s workforce and economic growth strategy.

    Recent policy wins focused on prison decarceration mean that more ex-prisoners will be returning to San Bernardino County in the near future. Gainful employment helps returning people create economic stability after release and reduces the likelihood that they return to prison. This in turn, promotes greater public safety and contributes to a strong regional economy which benefits everyone. The following recommendations are informed by the experiences of people returning from prison and should be adopted in the region’s workforce and economic growth strategy.

     

     

    Government institutions including the City of San Bernardino should:

    1. Invest in work readiness programs, both in and out of custody, that:

      • Provide up to date technological skills to navigate job search and online applications

      • Consider past work/labor while under supervision as providing valuable and transferable skills for resume building and employment seeking

      • Focus on interview skills and how to communicate work experience and relevant skills while under supervision

    1. Include and realign public funding toward prisoner re-entry work based programs as a component of its public safety plan
    1. Promote incentive-based programs to expand the number of “felon friendly” employers in the city and county
    1. Ensure that local hiring and labor agreements include opportunities for people with criminal records

     

    Employers should:

    1. Eliminate employment discrimination by:

      • Fully complying with California’s “Ban the Box Law” (Fair Chance Act) which prohibits employers from asking about criminal history before making a job offer

      • Complying with California law not to use credit reports in making employment decisions

      • Not pre-screening applications informally through social media to disqualify or eliminate candidates before a hiring decision

    1. Hire and promote formerly incarcerated people by:
      • Incorporating new integrity practices that welcome applicants to communicate their work under supervision as relevant transferable skills and valid work experienc
      • Create pipelines to leadership and advancement opportunities
      • Creating incentive programs that reinforce successful reintegration such as bonuses for achieving milestones
    1. Support a work culture that fosters successful reintegration by:
      • Providing flexibility to meet mandatory conditions of parole and probation (i.e. drug treatment classes, visits from parole/probation officers, etc.)
      • Offering culturally appropriate training to help navigate the learning curve while reentering the workforce
      • Building a restorative work environment that provides training on corrective approaches that discourage the rush to fire as the first means of corrective action