Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG), called on all states to convene their respective business leaders to discuss ways in which government can help—and hinder—efforts to improve employment outcomes for people with criminal records.
The announcement came after his “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative inspired a meeting Monday at the White House, bringing together business executives and local, state, and federal government officials to help crystalize obstacles between the public and private sectors preventing the hiring of those with prior convictions.
“Elected officials across the political spectrum are focusing on high unemployment rates among millions of adults with criminal records,” Senator Norris said. “We recognize that government alone can’t solve this problem. Today is a terrific demonstration of the kind of private-sector dialogue we need to design strategies that are good for business and that put people who are now law-abiding citizens to work. We’re calling on all states to have the same kind of conversations at the state level.”
The event, coordinated by The White House Domestic Policy Council, the CSG Justice Center, and the National Reentry Resource Center, featured a roundtable of executives from small-, medium-, and large-sized businesses, including Home Depot and Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, as well as policymakers from all levels of government.
“Today’s conversation highlights how businesses need to be thoughtful about these types of hiring decisions to ensure we address the estimated 65 million people of working age who have criminal records in this country,” Senator Norris said. “A criminal record isn’t something that should be ignored, but, depending on how it relates to the responsibilities of the position advertised, it’s also not something that should automatically disqualify someone from a job.”
Senator Norris hopes the latest discussions will serve as motivation for similar conversations to begin in individual states across the country. He also noted that, for those states interested in coordinating discussions between the public and private sectors, the National Reentry Resource Center is prepared to provide guidance and assistance.
The State Pathways to Prosperity is a 2014 initiative designed to encourage states to enact changes to bolster the skills of American workers to ensure they meet the demands of companies and secure employment. The gap between employer demand and the number of qualified workers is widening due to a variety of factors, including children living in poverty, people battling hunger and poor nutrition, veterans’ difficulties in meeting certification and degree requirements, and people who have been involved in the criminal justice system.
“The jobs are available for the people with the skills to secure them,” Senator Norris said. “We have a unique opportunity to help train these individuals and prepare them for the workforce upon their release from prison or jail. Finding employment is the toughest challenge they’ll face, but it’s also a pivotal step towards staying out of lockup and being a productive member of society.”