Jenny Kim is no stranger to helping businesses open opportunities for more people and the communities in which they operate.
“There’s economic benefit for both sides. The business community has been missing from this conversation for a long time,” Kim explained during a panel at the Atlanta Pro Bono Roundtable.
“You need business as a part of this equation. Because we are all a part of the community, and we need to make sure that our communities are safe, that our employees are stable, and that they’re going to do well.”
As the deputy general counsel and vice president of public policy at Koch Industries, Kim works to help other businesses consider hiring qualified people with criminal records.
According to a new report from a team of independent researchers at Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Reform and Development, the best ways to help people leaving prison are to listen, offer a path to success, and recognize that many want to contribute to their communities. Those findings, along with many others, inform the work of Safe Streets & Second Chances, a first-of-its-kind reentry initiative launched in 2018 in Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Kim shared five things that employers of all sizes and any location can do to create mutually beneficial opportunities for their businesses, employees and communities:
1. Start slowly.
Hiring and retaining any employee is a risk, so start by thinking about where you feel comfortable taking a risk on hiring someone with a criminal record. Review the Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit. Reach out to other businesses that have had success.
In January, Koch Industries partnered with the Society for Human Resource Management on the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge that encourages companies to hire qualified people with criminal records. Lots of businesses signed on to the pledge – and yours can too.
2. Do pro bono work.
In 2018, Koch launched its nationwide Pro Bono Initiative, which encourages attorneys to offer legal services in their communities pro bono. This work is especially critical, Kim said, when it comes to expungement of criminal records that may be holding people back from reaching their potential in the workforce.
“The number one inhibitor to expungements continues to be poverty," according to Christine Campbell, Kansas Legal Services’ statewide pro bono director.
As a recent University of Michigan study noted, among those able to have their records cleared, only 6.5% do so within their first five years of eligibility. Those who do receive expungements subsequently earn, on average, 25% more than they would have without one.
3. Mentor youth.
Just knowing someone is there to listen to them share their concerns or just vent is important.
“You don’t have to provide all this wisdom and Andy Griffith-like kind of advice, but just listening is a big deal,” Kim said.
4. Work together.
Figure out how to integrate all resources in the community that will help enable people for success, including social and mental health services. When companies hire people coming out of prison, they need to remember that they are also dealing with family and personal issues.
“You have to support them, both emotionally and sometimes helping them navigate the entire social service spectrum as well,” Kim added.
5. Visit a prison.
More than anything else, said Kim, who has visited several prisons across the country in the course of her criminal justice work, “that just changes your mindset completely.”
“You encounter people in there that think about things that you do, that you like, and it’s just a natural conversation,” Kim said. “It’s not like you’re in prison and I’m not, and I’m going to help you and be your angel. No, that’s not the way you need to view it. You’re just having a conversation with a person.”