3p Weekend: 11 Companies That Hire the Formerly Incarcerated

Isidore Electronics Recycling provides job opportunities for previously incarcerated Los Angeles residents while finding a new home for e-waste.
Isidore Electronics Recycling provides job opportunities for previously incarcerated Los Angeles residents while finding a new home for e-waste.

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

It’s no secret that finding a job after being released from prison is an often insurmountable task, leading to skyrocketing recidivism rates across the country. While many companies are hesitant to hire the formerly incarcerated, a number of enterprises are taking a chance on these men and women — and, in turn, giving them a second chance at life.

1. Isidore Electronics Recycling

This Los Angeles-based e-waste recycling company has three missions: keep old electronics out of landfills, create long-term green jobs and reduce the city’s high recidivism rate by hiring formerly incarcerated Angelenos as employees.

“Here in California we have two problems – our landfills are overflowing, and our prisons are overflowing. We believe that we can help solve these two problems by creating green job prison reentry programs,” Kabira Stokes, co-founder of Isidore Electronics Recycling, said in 2013. After around two years in operation, the company now employs more than a dozen people with plans to expand.

2. Delancey Street Restaurant

For 40 years, the San Francisco-based Delancey Street Foundation has provided a home and all services to thousands of residents at no cost to clients or local taxpayers. How? By creating its own revenue through social enterprises like Delancey Street Restaurant, a local favorite for its tasty eats and breathtaking views of the Bay Bridge.

In addition to helping out with funding, the restaurant also serves as a training space for residents trying to get back on their feet. “All tips are considered donations, and all restaurant proceeds after food costs go directly to house, feed and clothe our residents and teach all skills, values and attitudes needed for a successful drug-free and crime-free life in the mainstream society,” the foundation says on its website.

3. Felony Franks

Chicago paper company owner Jim Andrews hired dozens of ex-inmates in his nearly 20 years in the business. But in 2009, he decided to take things a step further by launching Felony Franks, a hot dog stand that hires only formerly incarcerated employees and provides on-the-job training to help them start a new life.

Although Andrews’ mission is a pertinent one, he clearly doesn’t take the whole thing too seriously: Along with the fun (and fabulously alliterated) name, Felony Franks’ menu includes items like the “misdemeanor wiener.”

4. RecycleForce

Using the revenue generated by its recycling business, Indianapolis-based RecycleForce is helping formerly incarcerated men and women rebuild their lives by providing gainful employment and comprehensive social services. It received a $5.5 million federal grant back in 2011 that will cover an estimated 500 workers.

“RecycleForce helps ex-offenders break down the barriers to employment by providing transitional jobs for up to six months, as well as comprehensive services designed to get their lives back on track … This ‘wrap-around’ approach greatly increases the chance of sustained future employment and decreases the instances of re-offending,” the company writes on its website.

5. Dave’s Killer Bread

Dave’s Killer Bread started out as the favorite organic bread at their local farmers market in Portland. Less than a decade later, it’s the No. 1 best-selling organic bread in the country and on its way toward national availability.

In addition to organic, non-GMO ingredients, the company has another secret: One in three of its employees is a convicted felon. “Through our partner enrichment program, we’re helping our employees build hard and soft skills to enhance their lives after incarceration,” the company says on its website.

6. Drive Change

Founder Jordyn Lexton (right) and the Drive Change team.
Founder Jordyn Lexton (right) and the Drive Change team.

New York City startup Drive Change is currently building a fleet of food trucks that serve fresh and tasty fare while employing young people with criminal records.

In addition to providing hands-on work experience and transferrable skills, Drive Change works to place its employees in permanent positions – lowering recidivism rates for young people who are treated as adults in the criminal justice system from 70 percent to 20 percent for program participants, according to the startup. All sales from Drive Change food trucks recycle back into the organization to subsidize re-entry programs.

7. Planting Justice

Oakland-based Planting Justice has a simple yet powerful motto: “Grow food. Grow jobs. Grow community.”

Since 2009, the organization has built more than 250 edible permaculture gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area, worked with three high-schools to develop food justice curriculum, and created 11 green jobs for men transitioning from prison in the food justice movement.

8. Homeboy Industries

Through social enterprises like farmers markets, bakeries and restaurants, Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries gives a second chance to high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women through a continuum of free services and programs. Homeboy’s clients are also its employees, with each of its unique social enterprises serving as job-training sites.

9. Creative Matters

It’s no surprise that so many companies on this list hail from California. With more than 65 percent of inmates returning to prison within three years of release, the state has the highest recidivism rate in the nation, leading many social entrepreneurs to take matters into their own hands.

This ad agency based in Los Angeles is a prime example: All but one of the agency’s 15 employees are recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. The agency has grown a pool of 30 regular accounts since opening its doors in 2010, Fast Company reports.

10. Defy Ventures

New York City-based Defy Ventures goes beyond simply hiring ex-cons by giving them the tools to go into business for themselves. The entrepreneurship program provides ex-inmates with MBA-like training, executive coaching, mentoring, parenting education, character development and career opportunities.

“Our signature entrepreneurship program engages [ex-inmates] in a series of Shark Tank-style business plan competitions judged by renowned thought leaders who award up to $150,000 in seed capital to winning ventures,” the company writes on its website.

11. LaunchPodium

Another success story out of San Francisco, LaunchPodium is an online marketing firm helping small businesses and entrepreneurs build websites, social engagement and advertising. Half of its full-time staff also happens to be made up of ex-inmates.

Sure, the whole staff is only only four guys right now, but as a laundry list of mom’s-house-to-millionaire stories prove, Bay Area tech startups tend to grow quickly. The firm is continuing its work with formerly incarcerated men and women in the area, even hosting newly released prisoners as “entrepreneurs-in-residence,” so the trend of hiring ex-inmates is likely to continue as well.

Images courtesy of Isidore Electronics Recycling and Drive Change

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a senior editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and the Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who has a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

20 responses

  1. This is good stuff! I wonder though, does a name like “felony franks” take it too far? Like is it a good idea to brag about it and publicly label your employees felons in an obvious manner? It’s not something to be proud if, it’s something to move past. I like the approach of keeping the message a bit more subtle.

    1. When 1 in 12 people in the US is a convicted felon, I think that it draws much needed attention to this human rights tragedy. Too many people would like to pretend that this isn’t a big deal. A felony conviction is a life sentence of social disenfranchisement, calling it out takes away the stigma.

    2. While it’s not necessarily something to be proud of, hiring and supporting people in every stage of reintegration is the goal. That name makes the hiring people with felonies known. We need more of that in this society. How can people with felonies ever get back on their feet if they can’t get a job?

  2. These are wonderful. Minor correction: Planting Justice is actually located in Oakland, not San Francisco.

  3. Check out D.C. Central Kitchen….www.dccentralkitchen.org not only employees, but much of the management are returning citizens.

  4. Does anyone else read this and think, “hmm, these are eleven places NOT to apply for employment, or do business with?”

      1. It’s a free country, I suppose. If you want to go to work every day and rub elbows with a bunch of deranged crackhead cutthroats, without even any bars between you and them, no one’s proposing stopping you.

        On the other hand, if you have a business to run, and a fiduciary obligation to create profit for your sharehoulders and not expose the organization to risk, legal or otherwise, you have strong incentives to do business with known reliable suppliers and organizations which do not make a practice of hiring individuals who have on the basis of prior behavior proven themselves to be of poor judgment and a potential danger to those around them.

        1. We probably have no common ground to discuss this particular issue and I will not try to change your outlook on felons, addicts in rehab, and the less fortunate members of our community. I will say that my wife and I through our church, and privately, have hosted felons, addicts, drop-outs, and others in our home and have had, in general, great experiences. Many businesses likewise have found good and loyal employees in people who are looking for a second chance to put their past permanently in their past and reconcile with family, friends, and their God so that they can live a productive life. There is a growing recognition that one of the solutions to poverty and growing prison populations is to help those in the system make a successful re-entry into society.

        2. bleef, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Most people in our jails and prisons are people like you and me who have screwed up and gotten caught. Very few are either deranged or cutthroats. Many have, to their sorrow, been crackheads. The mere fact that they have been able to be clean of drugs for a substantial period of time testifies to their rehabilitation and an innate strength that has enabled them to stay away from drugs. Those who have taken a chance on ex-offenders have mainly found them to be reliable and dedicated employees.

        3. Hello. Yes I’m a crackhead with more education than you. You know why I say this is because you got to be ignorant to say the things you are saying. I have been to prison
          3 times and have two masters degrees. No I didn’t obtain them in prison which would have been find as well. You see it’s not good to disrespectful or judge people. But Ignorance is blested. It is what it is and I have 23 years of sobriety. One day at a time…

        4. I’m so glad you responded to this child. He obviously doesn’t live in the real world. There are real people who mess up or get caught up in things that get out of their control . You seem to have turned your life around . I hope you speak to others to give them hope that it can be done. I think some give up before they ever try. I don’t blame them with people out there like this character. My daughter owns a business and she hired a man who was in jail for drugs. He seems like he has it together and really wants to do right. He works hard and does a great job. He is also very protective of my daughter in a fatherly type way. He’s a bit older then she is. But I’m proud of her for giving him a chance. He was turned down by several places and was very thankful for an opportunity to prove himself . You should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished . I wonder if you’ve thought of writing a book someday. More people need to hear the good endings . Maybe it will spark more employers to give a chance. Life is all about chance isn’t it ?

  5. You might want to add to your list CORE Foods in Oakland (www.corefoods.com), which creates full, nutritious meals in ready-to-eat packs. They also run a small vegetarian café in Oakland called Core Kitchen. The founder, Corey Rennell, hires a lot of previously-incarcerated adults.

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