October 26, 2022 
The Berkshire Eagle 

Jason Cuyler: Second chances matter in the workplace

At Second Street Second Chances, our name makes our intentions clear: to treat formerly incarcerated individuals with respect and encouragement, to provide them with job readiness skills and access to job opportunities, and to prepare them to become productive and contributing members of their communities.

According to the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), at any one time, nearly 6.9 million people are on probation, in jail, in prison or on parole in the United States. Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons, and another 9 million cycle through local jails.

How do we, as a community, support the safe and successful reentry of people returning from incarceration? How do we help nurture self-worth and a sense of belonging to a population immediately faced with a multitude of barriers upon their release?

It starts with providing the support formerly incarcerated individuals need to access social services, including housing, transportation, counseling, substance use treatment, and workforce training and employment opportunities — and finding and educating employers who are willing to hire justice-involved individuals.

Research shows that with effective protocols in place, hiring formerly incarcerated individuals is good for business and can help diversify the workforce. According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 82 percent of Americans say they would feel comfortable patronizing a business known to give those with a criminal record a second chance, and 77 percent of human resources professionals report that individuals with criminal records have higher promotion eligibility than other hires.

Further, SHRM statistics show that more than 80 percent of hiring managers consider workers with a criminal history as high-quality hires, equal to or even more effective than those without a criminal history. And, 74 percent of those same hiring managers indicated extreme value in hiring people with a criminal history, in part because it costs relatively little to recruit and hire them.

But there is much work to be done. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are jobless at any given time, with about a third of this population finding no employment at all over a four-year post-release timeframe. Given that joblessness and poverty often go hand in hand with justice-involved individuals before they are incarcerated, the struggle to find a job and assimilate into community life after incarceration is even greater.

With simple training, employers can learn how to interpret a criminal offender record information (CORI) file and how to hire applicants with a criminal history. Similarly, formerly incarcerated individuals can learn how to discuss their CORI file with potential employers and how to put their best foot forward when applying for jobs or interviewing. Workshops at 2nd Street help formerly incarcerated individuals with job readiness, and we are always available to help employers understand the process involved with being a CORI-friendly workplace.

Next month, 2nd Street is proud to join Berkshire Community College, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office and MassHire Berkshire Career Center for the Second Chances Job and Resource Fair. The event, which will be held Nov. 8 from 4 to 7 p.m. at BCC, is a perfect opportunity for formerly incarcerated individuals to meet with area employers. In preparation for the job fair, 2nd Street is holding a series of client readiness workshops designed to help formerly incarcerated individuals gain the skills they need to interact with employers and ultimately secure employment. Topics include tips for attending a job fair, how to talk about a CORI file with an employer, writing an effective resume and preparing for a job interview.

Thanks to our strong and growing partnerships in the Berkshires, 2nd Street continues to advocate for the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated population, and we are encouraged by the support we’ve received from our community and from the employers who support our mission. Together, we can help reduce recidivism and the stigma of incarceration, one job at a time.