By: Danielle Corclone
One in every six Philadelphians have been incarcerated. And according to a recent American Civil Liberties Union report, 75 percent of formerly incarcerated people struggle with employment a year after release. In a city with an estimated population of 1.5 million, that means at least 187,500 Philadelphians in this group could be struggling with employment.
On March 14, 2016, an updated amendment of the Fair Criminal Records Screening Standards Ordinance — otherwise known as “Ban the Box” legislation — went into effect in Philadelphia. Ever since, it has been illegal for every employer in town to ask job applicants to disclose their criminal convictions older than seven years (though the legislation allows for background checks to be conducted after offering a job to the applicant).
There are several financial incentives for Philadelphia businesses to hire formerly incarcerated people. Employers can claim up $10,000 in tax credits per year for up to three years for a qualifying hire through the Philadelphia Reentry Employment Program (PREP).
Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry administers two other funding opportunities: The Federal Bonding Program funded through the U.S. Department of Labor provides “fidelity insurance bonds to protect employers from any losses from theft, forgery, larceny and embezzlement.” Additionally, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit — which also applies to veterans and other groups — offers employers up to 40 percent of first year wages.
Hiring formerly incarcerated people shouldn’t only involve reaping the monetary benefits, though: It’s also about giving individuals with unique perspectives and experiences — who, yes, may have committed crimes, but also paid penance for those crimes — a second chance at success.
But it requires special accommodations, too. Reps from Community Learning Center, Reentry Think Tank and Baker Industries shared their own best practices for how employers can support formerly incarcerated employees in their organizations.