As discussed yesterday, momentum is building so that second-chance hiring can be the norm, not the rare exception, across Corporate America.
Plenty of hurdles, however, lie ahead. Despite the fact that 7 million jobs across the U.S. are still unfilled, and the fact that organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offer companies the tools and guidance necessary make second-chance hiring a more seamless process, many formerly incarcerated prisoners still struggle finding jobs that can allow them to rebuild their lives and contribute to their local communities and the U.S. economy.
Last year’s passage of the First Step Act, a federal law designed to provide for programs that can prevent recidivism after former prisoners complete their sentences, are also helping with this effort.
Nevertheless, Jenny Kim of Koch Industries insists the private sector can, and must, do more.
“Business has been the voice that's missing from this,” said Kim. “And the reality is we all live in these communities, and 97 percent of the folks in prison are coming back to our communities; we have got to figure out a way so that we can all subsist in this ecosystem successfully together.”
For Kim, her colleagues at Koch and her peers at SHRM, the reality of a nationwide talent pool that includes one in three people who have a criminal record cannot be overlooked; the alternative is continuing the same cycle of incarceration, despair and recidivism. “People's needs are very different - our demographics are very different now,” explained Kim, “and we have to figure out the way we can take a shot at breaking out of generational poverty. People want a shot to make the American dream.”
There is an indication change is afoot in the private sector, one that Kim acknowledges. “I’m inspired seeing companies like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America talk about this. I think companies are now stepping up to the plate and are becoming leaders in their community when it comes to this challenge. We have been able to lead on this at Koch; that's the thing that we're most proud of.”
For human resource managers or for any professionals in management who are wary of second-chance hiring, Kim was emphatic that they take a step back and again, look at these individuals as what they are – humans. Human beings, just like the writer and reader of this article, with the difference that they did that have the support and encouragement many of us have taken for granted from early childhood.
“I've been very lucky personally to have a very strong network of family, of friends, but not everyone has that,” Kim said as she reflected on her background and the focus of her work at Koch. “And so, looking at that humanity and looking at it from that aspect, I think that has been the most rewarding.”
Kim’s drive also comes from the fact that her work has had a massive impact on people she had never interacted with and will most likely never meet. But with that pride comes a deep sense of humility, evident during the long conversation she had with 3p.
“Often, you don't know whose lives are changing by the work that you do. And maybe that's the biggest blessing that so many people will be touched by this work if we all collectively do it together,” she said. “And that's the biggest transformation that all of us could contribute to - but it's okay if none of us get credit for it as well.”
The resources Koch Industries, the Koch Foundation and yes, the Koch network have invested in this movement has attracted a bevy of supporters across the U.S. political spectrum, including CNN commentator and former Obama administration official Van Jones. “This is an authentic movement . . . the left and right have come together on this for principled reasons,” Jones told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour during a joint interview he held with Koch Industries’ senior vice president Mark Holden after the First Step Act was passed last winter.
But not everyone praises Koch Industries’ stance on this issue. As The Atlantic summarized in 2015, the company’s opponents, in the words of Molly Brown, see this campaign as “just another attempt to manipulate the political process to advance the company's financial interests.”
Jones’ response to Brown, shared in the same article, was pointed: “When you've got more than 2 million people behind bars, I'll fight alongside anybody to change those numbers."
That point of view is shared by Kim. “We are willing to work with anyone and unite with anyone to do what’s right.”
“We're at a touch point with where Americans of all demographics I meet with day to day are really concerned about where we're headed,” Kim continued, “and the criminal justice system basically has been a warehousing tool for a long time, but we can't afford to do that anymore.”
For anyone who still isn’t persuaded by Jones, or Snoop Dogg’s public appearances with Charles Koch, here’s what Kim has to say:
“If anyone criticizes Koch, well, this is the beautiful thing about the fact that we are in the United States. We can have a civil dialogue about it, or not. And this is why my parents immigrated to this country, because when they were growing up in South Korea, they were not allowed to say anything about the government or the president.”
Wherever one’s thoughts about Koch Industries may lie, there’s little doubt that the company is leading and winning on this massive challenge. And this challenge has become a movement, one that includes companies, people and governments from all walks of life: from Ben & Jerry’s to John Legend . . . to conservative governors in the reddest of the red states like Georgia and Texas.
And if you cannot get past how important this second-chance hiring movement because of your feelings about Koch or any other company working on this challenge, here’s a gentle reminder: If your friend or family member was once incarcerated and still struggles making ends meet because of his or her past, the stubborn fact is that you would feel far differently about the groundbreaking and life-changing work that Kim and her colleagues refuse to stop doing.
A reminder: Later this month, we’ll be hosting 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What's Next, October 29-30, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C. On the afternoon of the 29th, Jenny Kim of Koch Industries will be onstage discussing how the private sector can help support prison reform and the hiring of formerly incarcerated citizens. You won’t want to miss this!
We're pleased to offer 3p readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by visiting the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.
Image credit: Tom Blackout/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.