When it comes to the jobs market, today’s headlines glimmer with optimism:
There seems to be no shortage of job opportunities—except if you’re an individual with justice involvement. This vulnerable population is susceptible to a wide range of barriers that make gainful employment difficult to obtain. At The Fortune Society, we see the consequences of these hindrances daily.
Furthermore, a vast majority of participants—over 89%—were unemployed when they first walked through our doors. These are individuals who are working hard to be productive members of society, but stigma and discrimination keep them from realizing their full potential in the job market. The impact of this has far-reaching consequences: Families and entire communities suffer from joblessness and underemployment due to justice histories, leading to cycles of poverty that are difficult to overcome.
Compounding the issue are differences in treatment of individuals with justice involvement across racial lines. According to the National Institute of Health, white applicants with justice involvement histories were called back by prospective employers at twice the rate of African-American applicants with similar experiences. This reflects data outside the criminal justice system: In 2017, the national unemployment rate for African-Americans was twice as high as that of whites.
We have a myriad of resources and tools to help individuals thrive, including job readiness workshops, sector-based skills training, job placement assistance, and subsidized internships. With our compassionate staff, individuals who were once disillusioned by the job market gain the confidence and skill set to succeed.
At the advocacy level, we have consistently called for policies that give individuals with justice involvement fair opportunities to reenter the community. This has led to recent legislation like the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits most New York City employers to ask about an applicant’s history of justice involvement before an initial job offer is made. Our advocacy work has also led to a relationship with the law firm of Outten & Golden LLP to reach a settlement with Target Corporation for its discriminatory practices against African-American and Latino applicants with justice involvement. Regarding this settlement, Fortune President and CEO JoAnne Page made it clear:
With our consistent efforts to remove unnecessary barriers to employment, the future looks brighter for individuals with justice involvement who are looking to succeed in the workforce. We are there for them every step of the way, and are committed to helping them and others see that people coming home from prison are more than their mistakes.
*Written by Root Stitches LLC