Homeboy Threads helps brands like Guess run clothing resale and recycling programs while offering jobs to formerly incarcerated people. (Image credit: Homeboy Industries)
Around 1 in 3 U.S. adults has a criminal record that would appear on a routine background screening. Even after serving their sentences, people with criminal justice histories are often cast aside by employers, locked out of housing, and deemed too high-risk for loans and other financial services. More than half of those leaving U.S. prisons are unemployed a year later, increasing the likelihood they’ll return.
Second chance hiring is based on the simple principle that a person's past does not define them, and those who have served their time should have a fair shot at employment and a place in their communities.
Not only does second chance hiring provide an opportunity for business to change lives, but there's also a massive economic incentive: Locking people with criminal backgrounds out of the workforce costs the U.S. economy an estimated $87 billion every year, according to JPMorgan Chase, which has grown into an outspoken advocate for second chance hiring. Here are some other companies that are leading the way on the practice as it begins to take hold across the private sector.
Second Chance Business Coalition brings big employers into the mix
The Second Chance Business Coalition launched in 2021 to provide companies with the tools, relationships, and expertise they need to advance second-chance opportunities within their organizations. Its membership has grown to nearly 50 large U.S. employers, from Best Buy and Target to Mastercard, Accenture and Deloitte.
About half of member companies reported on the internal changes they made within the coalition's first two years — and these early findings indicate a strong uptake of second-chance programming that goes beyond checking a box.
For example, of those members that reported data, nearly 75 percent said second-chance candidates made up more than 5 percent of their new hires. The majority of the coalition's corporate members also reviewed or updated their HR policies, established new programs to intentionally recruit second-chance candidates, and partnered with re-entry organizations on hiring and support for employees with records.
Still, challenges remain — with over half of members saying they faced regulatory hurdles when looking to hire people with any or certain types of criminal history. The coalition plans to release a set of guidelines later this month to outline the legal challenges employers face and provide guidance on how to address them.
Workforce and Justice Alliance connects newcomers and early adopters
Meanwhile, the Workforce and Justice Alliance launched last year to bring businesses together to remove workforce barriers for justice-impacted individuals. Formed by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), an international nonprofit that works with companies to champion criminal justice reform, the Alliance also includes leadership from Mod Pizza — an early champion of second chance hiring policies.
Many of the Alliance's members are early adopters like Mod Pizza and I Have a Bean. Others, like Flikshop — which sends photos to incarcerated people as postcards and offers free service to children with incarcerated parents — are founded by people with records. Of those companies that are newer members to this space, many have already changed their internal practices to reflect the challenges returning citizens face, according to an update from the Alliance shared earlier this year.
Crossroads Solar makes panels in the U.S. with a second chance workforce
Indiana-based Crossroads Solar creates high-quality, U.S.-made solar panels, and its factory is staffed entirely by formerly incarcerated people who are paid a living wage. Founders Patrick Regan and Martin Whalen spent years teaching courses at local prisons as part of the Moreau College initiative, a collaboration of the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College that provides liberal-arts educations to people in prison.
In 2020, they launched Crossroads Solar to create employment opportunities for people like their students after release. Today, many of the company's employees are recruited after taking Moreau courses. "Our workforce has been nothing short of stellar," Regan wrote in a newsletter update last year.
The company has big plans to expand, moving away from the "gigafactory" model that centralizes workers and prioritizes automation to a vision where more people across the country can get good-paying jobs in solar manufacturing. "A distributed model would envision 20 Crossroads-size factories around the country each producing 40ish [megawatt-hours] of output and each providing great jobs to men and women that traditionally struggle with employment," Regan wrote. The company is in talks with groups from Native communities to prisons to get the plans moving, he said.
Open hiring pioneer Greyson Bakery gets more companies involved
Getting a job at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, is as simple as writing your name. Greyston pioneered the practice of "open hiring" back in 1987 — and it has built its team without interviews, job applications or background checks ever since. Applicants simply write their names on a list, and they’re hired on a first come, first served basis — no questions asked. Benefits begin on day one, and new hires go through a seven- to nine-month apprenticeship before becoming full-fledged bakers for the company that supplies major brands like Ben & Jerry's.
“We always say we don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people," Joseph Kenner, vice president of programs and partnerships for Greyston Bakery, said at the 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands back in 2019.
Greyston’s model gives an unconditional second chance to people with criminal justice histories, as well as those experiencing homelessness, substance abuse issues or who are, for whatever reason, struggling to find steady work. The bakery also works with other employers including Unilever and the Body Shop to scale open hiring across the labor force.
Homeboy Industries leverages social enterprise to power second chance employment at scale
Operating under the motto "jobs not jails," Homeboy Industries offers employment, education, and other services to former gang members after they are released from prison.
The 35-year-old nonprofit has grown from a single bakery to almost a dozen social enterprises — from cafes and farmers markets to silkscreen shops and catering — which provide real-world training for people leaving prison while bringing in revenue to support Homeboy's re-entry work. Its latest venture, Homeboy Threads, helps brands like Guess run clothing resale and recycling programs while offering jobs to formerly incarcerated people.
Having served well over 100,000 people in its home city of Los Angeles since 1986, it now powers the Global Homeboy Network of more than 400 organizations committed to giving formerly incarcerated people a second chance.
Dave's Killer Bread keeps spreading the word about open chance hiring
Dave's Killer Bread got its start at a Portland farmers market. Nearly two decades later, it's the No. 1 best-selling organic bread in the country, available in stores nationwide. Around a third of the company's staff are formerly incarcerated, and it launched the Dave's Killer Bread Foundation in 2015 to equip other businesses to adopt second chance hiring.
The national nonprofit Jobs for the Future took over management of the Foundation's second chance hiring program earlier this year and plans to continue its Second Chance Corporate Cohorts — which train HR leaders to adopt the practice. Over 30 companies have already completed the program, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Cisco and Gap, Inc.
Indeed builds from early roots to big impact
Indeed's first employee, a software engineer who built the infrastructure for the job listing site back in 2004, was formerly incarcerated. The company has been an outspoke proponent of second chance hiring ever since. It's looking to help 30 million people facing employment barriers get jobs by 2030, with a focus on breaking down biases toward criminal justice history.
That includes work with partners like Banyan Labs, a software development company that trains and supports people with records and helps them find jobs in the field. Another $10 million initiative dubbed Essentials to Work looks to help Americans facing barriers to employment, including legal resources to help job-seekers have their records expunged. The company also includes a fair-chance commitment on all of its U.S. job descriptions.
Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL.