via East Bay Times, July 4, 2017
Last summer, Alameda County approved a bold initiative to make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to get back into the job market. The county promised to train and then hire 1,400 people with past felony convictions through the Re-Entry and Harder to Employ Hiring Initiative.
While follow-through for an ambitious vision takes time, there is no excuse for where we are today. A year later, only five positions — fewer than 1 percent of the jobs promised — have been opened up to support formerly incarcerated residents as they reenter their communities.
This lack of progress is a real tragedy.
From my work at the National Employment Law Project, we know the costs associated with job barriers formerly incarcerated people face.
Locking people out of the job market because they have a record squanders tremendous human potential and costs billions of dollars in lost economic activity. People who are denied the chance to work are denied the chance to use their talents and skills to better themselves and support their families.
That is why we have supported the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County and the Hiring Initiative.
Not only would this initiative remove employment barriers for people who have been incarcerated, but it would go a step further and give them the training and jobs needed to bring them long-term economic stability.
This initiative could make a real difference for Alameda County residents. It could even become a national model, which is why the inaction of the past year is inexcusable. It is also why we are working with the Justice Reinvestment Coalition to bring a message to the Board of Supervisors:
It’s time to honor your pledge to connect formerly incarcerated people with job opportunities.
Alameda County voters support this message too, and by a wide margin. In a recent poll conducted for The California Endowment, three of four voters find it unacceptable that the initiative isn’t moving forward. Furthermore, 70 percent of voters strongly favor offering more job training programs for the formerly incarcerated.
Support for job training is part of a broader shift in how voters view public safety. They no longer believe more jails and harsher punishments make their community safer.
Instead, the vast majority believe Alameda County will be safer if the board invests in better schools, increases access to housing and health care — especially mental health — and expands economic opportunity for all residents.
The good news is the money is there to make these investments. Thanks to Proposition 47, passed in 2014, Alameda County will see savings that can be invested in community services, offering a real alternative to the over-reliance on the criminal justice system.
What we need now is political will and follow-through. As the supervisors finalize the budget for the next fiscal year, we need them to make the right choices: invest in smart, community-based solutions that voters support and that will make a lasting difference for our residents.
The supervisors can begin by jumpstarting the jobs initiative and ensuring that it becomes a reality this year.
When they do, the supervisors will be helping 1,400 people stop the revolving door of the criminal justice system and enabling them to take part in building thriving communities. Most importantly, the supervisors will help make Alameda County safer and more prosperous for all.
Michelle Natividad Rodriguez is a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project in Berkeley, where she works to expand job opportunities for people with records.