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Gloria Johns headshot

Youth Can Have That Chance If We Can Unlock Potential — All Potential

By Gloria Johns
Unlock Potential

The landscape of corporate social responsibility often looks scattered and treacherous. Businesses struggle to put the right foot forward and to determine how much engagement is “safe.” In contrast, Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) has found a niche in working with both community groups and major U.S. companies, and continues to drive change for at-risk young adults — one such result is its Unlock Potential program.

A champion for fairness and inclusion for all: RBIJ

RBIJ is an international nonprofit organization working with companies to champion fairness, equality and effectiveness across systems of punishment and incarceration. Priority is given to particular aspects of the criminal justice system: ending the death penalty, as it is skewed against minorities and the poor; and advocating for "Clean Slate" legislation, which automatically seals records for certain offenses, if a person remains crime free for a specific period of time. Calling for an end to the “criminalization of poverty,” and an end to the use of cash bail is another RBIJ initiative. Too often, the innocent end up suffering job and economic losses, and then become economically destitute, only because they cannot afford bail.

RBIJ also participates in the effort to pass legislation in the U.S. that reverses juvenile life without parole sentencing. The U.S. is the only country in the world that permits youth to be sentenced to life without parole. To that end, the fight for prison reform and effective incarceration programs is ongoing. 

RBIJ works with companies to identify their areas of interest, provide relevant data and information, and assist with campaigns, media outreach, as well as administrative support.

Engaging youth through Unlock Potential

More recently, RBIJ has created a network of corporate partners who participate in the Unlock Potential (UP) program, a racial equity-focused youth hiring program designed to prevent incarceration. Corporations participate in UP with the intention of creating meaningful career opportunities for young adults at the greatest risk of incarceration.

Ben Cumming, RBIJ’s communications director, told 3p that “first-time incarceration can decrease lifetime earnings by more than 30 percent. These obstacles disproportionately impact BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] communities. Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of whites, and the effect of a criminal record on employment is 40 percent more damaging for Black men than white men.” 

UP will focus on the 4.4 million Americans identified as “opportunity youth” — individuals aged 16 to 24 who are neither in enrolled in an education program or employed. 

Four youth groups have been identified as most vulnerable to adverse, life-altering risk: citizens who have already encountered the juvenile justice system; youths with an incarcerated parent; those who were exposed to or victims of sex or human trafficking; and young people who have lived in foster care.

RBIJ and corporate partners work together to offer that first chance at meaningful work

So far, RBIJ and UP have been successful in adding the strength of additional corporations to the program. Such corporations include American Family Insurance, Delta Airlines and Ben & Jerry’s.

“At American Family Insurance, we’ve made it a priority to create real second chances for people who have been incarcerated,” said Nyra Jordan, Social Impact Director at the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, in a recent public statement. “But we also need to be working to prevent individuals from ending up in prison in the first place. Unlock Potential will do precisely that.” 

"We know that having a diverse workforce builds a better and more innovative business," said Keyra Lynn Johnson, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer for Delta Air Lines. "This partnership builds a bridge to individuals who often don't have connections and opportunities to careers at Delta, while at the same time broadening our access to untapped talent."

As Ben & Jerry's CEO Matthew McCarthy recently told Inc., "Data show that meaningful employment opportunities are one of the most impactful ways to prevent future incarceration.”

Added RBIJ’s Cumming in a media release from last month, “By participating these companies will advance racial equity, disrupt the poverty-to-prison pipeline, and develop the next generation of corporate leaders – with the diversity necessary to thrive.”

Image credit: Levi Jones via Unsplash

Gloria Johns headshot

Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.

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