Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: 11 Companies That Hire the Formerly Incarcerated


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

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 headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni

More stories from Leadership & Transparency