Richmond Votes Tonight on Community Reintegration and Employment for Formerly Incarcerated

UPDATE: At the July 30 council meeting, the Richmond City Council passed the ordinance expanding their “Fairness in Hiring” policy.

July 30, 2013, Richmond, Calif. – The Richmond City Council is poised to take a historic step in leveling the playing field for returning citizens as they vote on the expansion of their “Fairness in Hiring” policy to include all companies doing business with the City of Richmond. The Safe Return Project will also release a newly published report, Employment and Community Reintegration in Contra Costa County, in collaboration with the Pacific Institute and CCISCO. The publication presents original research, including survey findings that 78% of formerly incarcerated Richmond residents are unemployed, and two out of three have not held a single job since their release.

Richmond City Council member Jovanka Beckles introduced the legislation in response to the 78% unemployment rate for Richmond residents who have returned home from incarceration. The City of Richmond and 43 other cities and states across the U.S. have decided that in their hiring they will not consider applicants’ past convictions unless legally required and only after the person has found to be qualified for the position. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission endorses this as a best practice and many county governments have found that it reduces costs in addition to improving public safety.  “Sensitive positions” would be excluded from this provision and would be allowed to conduct background checks during the hiring process. On Tuesday, July 30th at 6:30pm, a broad cross-section of clergy, formerly incarcerated community leaders, public officials and business owners will hold a press conference on the steps of the Richmond City Hall to declare their support for the legislation.

More than 50 private business owners, including the president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, have signed “Fairness in Hiring” pledges declaring their commitment to making “my best effort to employ the most qualified applicant at my place of business, regardless of their past convictions. This is my contribution in the effort to support public safety, and the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals in the city of Richmond.”

The research report finds a high level of interest in job training and transitional employment: while only 30% of respondents said they had participated in a trade or job training program after their release, more than 3 in 4 of those who did not participate were interested in such a program. The financial hardship of unemployment was evident in that more than half of those surveyed stated they had often or sometimes skipped a meal due to difficulties getting food. The majority also reported they had wanted to see a doctor, but did not because of the cost.

Over the last year Contra Costa County has led the way around issues of reentry and realignment in the state of California as the county shifted over $5 million dollars away from a jail expansion and into investments in people coming home from prison. (click here for the history of this campaign).

The report Employment and Community Reintegration in Contra Costa County may be downloaded at www.pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/reintegration-employment-final.pdf 

The Safe Return Project is a participatory research and action initiative led by a group of formerly incarcerated Richmond residents carrying out research, community organizing, and policy advocacy to improve community reintegration after incarceration. In this partnership with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) and Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety, the Pacific Institute provides capacity building, coordination, and research support.