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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Should completing a prison sentence and paying one’s debt to society mean a life-long sentence of never having an opportunity to land a good job? In that past, that’s largely what it meant.

Wednesday, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce took up that question and dedicated their monthly forum to the topic of “Second Chance” employment. 

Chamber CEO Roy Williams was joined by a panel of experts in the field of job training and placement for people with felony charges in their background.

Second Chance hiring increasingly referred to as “Fair Chance” hiring, is the practice of hiring people for good jobs in spite of having been charged with crimes in the past, including people who are re-entering society after spending a term in prison.

The panel consisted of Michael Bowling, attorney at Crowe and Dunlevy; Joe Ely, Director of Business and Industry Services at Moore Norman Technology Center; Jenna Morey, Executive Director of ReMerge Oklahoma County; and Doug Shaffer, Director of Operations at Scissortail Waste Solutions, LLC. 

In their professional lives, each endeavor to connect people with criminal legal charges in their past to find meaningful and stable employment.

Currently, Williams said, one in three working age Oklahomans has some past criminal charges on their record. This presents a huge barrier to meaningful employment. 

At the same time, studies show that stable employment and self-sufficiency are the greatest contra-indicators of recidivism, a concern for our whole community.

Panelists’ views

Michael Bowling – beyond fear and stigma

Bowling has been practicing law in Oklahoma for about 20 years. During that time, he has focused on Human Resource law while representing various companies around our community.

Bowling said that what leads him to work on issues of second chance hiring is a belief in redemption. Bowling says that we aren’t defined by past choices.

When looking at Human Resource policies, Bowling says, he often sees policy that is written from a place of fear and stigma. Even though some industries have federal regulations concerning the former charges that render a candidate ineligible for consideration, those policies need to be followed more closely. 

For example, while regulations prevent hiring somebody with felony drug possession in their background from working at a pharmacy, it wouldn’t necessarily keep them from being hired to drive a forklift or some other good-paying job. But blemishes on a background check should eliminate candidates from consideration.

Bowling explained that the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act has some specific rules about how a business is supposed to treat a background check.

Joe Ely – re-entry programs

Joe Ely, PhD., runs a program through Moore Norman Technology Center to train and make ready potential employees who are being released from prison. Re-entry programs play a big role in assisting those leaving incarceration to find a way to fit back into society as productive and safe neighbors.

Ely’s program specializes in training for certified employment such as welding, masonry, HVAC, dog grooming, and a host of other programs. Participants are also helped with job placement. Candidates can be trained on-site, or at the Technology Center. Ely says that there are a number of similar schools across the state offering this kind of service.

He said that stigma creates the most significant barrier to success for his clients.

“These folks are ready [to work], and they deserve a chance,” Ely said. “The lens we see incarceration through is starting to change, and there’s no better time for it to change.”

Ely explained that stable employment is the greatest tool against recidivism. His program has a recidivism rate of around 25%, which means that 75% of their participants never go back to prison. The current federal recidivism rate is closer to 40%.

Jenna Morey – re-integration of mothers

Jenna Morey is the Executive Director of the popular program ReMerge of Oklahoma County. ReMerge works with mothers facing nonviolent felony charges who have the ability to reunite with their children.

The program does this by providing employment opportunities and job-specific training for program participants. They also offer other services, such as a GED program, and social services. Candidates graduate from the program with a job and with crucial life skills like emotional self-regulation.

Morey says that when an employer hires one of their clients, the client is seen often by ReMerge staff. ReMerge staff also meet monthly with the employer to make sure things are going as expected.

When you hire a ReMerge candidate, Morey explained, you get a support team that comes along with the employee to make sure they are successful.

Doug Shaffer – beyond bad background checks

Doug Shaffer is the Director of Operations at Scissortail Waste Management Solutions, LLC. Shaffer says that he has been hiring Fair Chance candidates for years. In fact, 47% of his staff are people with past criminal legal involvement.

Shaffer’s involvement with Fair Chance hiring began when he finished his own 21 years sentence in prison.

Shaffer explained some of the ways his struggle to find meaningful employment after prison has shaped the way he interacts with his professional life. He said that the first challenge is societal bias.

After years of work in the private sector, Shaffer was considered for hire by a municipality to be in charge of municipal waste services. His interview process went very well. He interviewed a number of people on a number of occasions. The job was offered to him. 

But then his HR packet went in front of legal counsel who never met or spoke with Shaffer. The job offer was rescinded despite his spending the previous five years building a well-respected business in the private sector, all because of something that happened decades before.

Shaffer said that background checks themselves often have mistakes. If a person has discharged their sentence, they are considered to have paid their debt to society, but in reality, much of society demands to make people continue to pay.

Shaffer’s background check from the OSBI has factual errors that kept him from opportunities without his even knowing about it. He said that a candidate ought to be able to answer for their background check.

Bowling echoed this point saying that it’s a waste of time to not hire somebody who has made it that far into the interview process. Add to that, the fact that if a person’s record is expunged or if they’ve received a pardon, most commercial background checks will still display the charge.

Chamber Toolkit

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has created a digital toolkit for businesses interested in becoming second chance employers. While the forum only had approximately 50 attendees, the event was recorded and will be available through the Chamber for re-watching soon.

The toolkit is available for review at https://online.flippingbook.com/view/53100513/

Last Updated June 16, 2021, 3:35 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor