Employers throughout the country struggle to find the workers they need. In Ramsey County, one group of individuals may be able to help alleviate the shortage – those who have been previously involved in the criminal justice system.
“Justice-impacted individuals” are persons who have or are in the process of leaving the criminal justice system. Despite a strong interest in getting into productive employment, these individuals have historically faced many barriers to returning to the workforce. Perhaps the most critical factor in assisting them in successfully stepping out of the criminal justice system is procuring a job that puts them on a path to self-sustainability. Ramsey County Workforce Solutions (WFS) is partnering with numerous area organizations to help alleviate those barriers that can stand in the way of individuals while also assisting employers in meeting their needs.
“This may seem self-evident, but from our perspective, employment is a need area that is associated with continued involvement in the criminal justice system, e.g., recidivism,” said Ed Hauck, Research and Evaluation Supervisor (Interim), Ramsey County Community Corrections. “So supporting clients to build job readiness, develop job skills and find employment in a higher quality job contributes to building a safer, healthier community.”
By the numbers
The number of justice-impacted individuals often flies under the radar of mainstream awareness. Some defining data include:
- Minnesota prisons release about 6,964 people yearly as of 2019.
- The Minnesota Department of Correction reported 4,586 releases in 2022.
- Over the past two years in Ramsey County, about 2,500 individuals were sentenced to probation.
- The Prison Policy Initiative reported that as of 2018, approximately 123,000 Minnesota residents were behind bars or under criminal justice supervision, with about 95,000 on probation.
Justice-impacted individuals often find themselves in a “lost wages” circle that is difficult to escape. If employers overlook people who have been in prison, those persons struggle to obtain financial stability without gainful employment and are more likely to be imprisoned again, continuing the circle. The Brennan Center for Justice has reported that nearly 60 million people are involved in the criminal justice system in the U.S.:
- 7+ million have been imprisoned.
- 12+ million have been convicted of a felony without imprisonment.
- 45+ million have been convicted of a misdemeanor.
- The annual lost earnings of Americans formerly imprisoned exceeds $55 billion and is over $370 billion for those impacted by convictions or imprisonment.
Helping each other
Pairing justice-impacted individuals with employers would not only help them gain traction toward incorporating themselves back into local society but could provide employers with a much-needed influx of talent. In many cases, identifying bottlenecks and barriers is the first necessary step to take. Ramsey County Community Corrections recently completed a survey of their adult clients who are on probation. The most common need involves a better connection with resources in the community that could lead to employment.
In 2022, Ramsey County WFS created an informal Fair Opportunities Advisory Group of community members and county staff. The group is formalizing in 2023 as a partnership between Ramsey County, the Workforce Innovation Board of Ramsey County and several community organizations focusing on the justice-impacted population. The group is planning to share resources for employers and justice impacted job seekers and host a series of events, including a second annual Welcome Home Party and Job/Resource Fair.
Some of the other area organizations working to connect justice-impacted individuals with resources include:
- The Minnesota Department of Corrections has several reentry services and resources, like the Minnesota Transition Coalitions.
- The 2ndChanceProject is a local organization seeking to provide real-life second-chance opportunities to individuals coming out of incarceration, state hospital facilities, struggling families or anyone looking to get back on their feet.
- Twin Cities R!se has a mission “to transform the lives of those impacted by racial or socio-economic barriers through Personal Empowerment, career training and meaningful employment.”
- Repowered, formerly Tech Dump, is one of Minnesota’s largest collectors of e-waste but is also a social enterprise that provides jobs and training for persons facing barriers to employment.
- Ujamaa Place prepares men who are unemployed or underemployed and have yet to hold a consistent job due to instability or incarceration to enter the workforce through numerous services and resources.
- Art from the Inside is an organization founded by a correctional officer to allow incarcerated artists to express themselves through art and community exhibitions.
- We Are All Criminals is a Minnesota non-profit organization dedicated to challenging society’s perceptions of being “criminal.”
Series on justice-impacted resources
This article is the first piece in a series of Fair Opportunities articles meant to raise awareness of the employment needs of justice-impacted individuals and the benefits to employers willing to give these returning citizens a chance at meaningful employment. Watch for upcoming content on detailed looks into area providers and resources working actively, as well as businesses and individuals who have directly benefited from their interactions together. Justice-impacted individuals and local employers can contact Ramsey County Workforce Solutions for assistance.