New State Laws Ease Restrictions on Employment for Residents with Criminal Past

criminal record

The majority of Americans skim over the little black box on employment applications that asks applicants to mark if they have a criminal history. For the nearly one-third of Americans with a criminal record, however, this one question causes hesitation.

For a woman anticipating release from the Tennessee Prison forWomen and reunification with the infant she placed with Jonah’s Journey, the stakes when answering that question can be high.

Securing employment after release reduces concerns about other needs such as housing, food and child care, which makes this one of the most important pieces of the puzzle to reducing recidivism.

A 2015 study by the Manhattan Institute found a 20% reduction in return to crime by nonviolent offenders when they find employment soon after their release from prison. At Jonah’s Journey, we’ve experienced the benefits that a strong release plan can have on the life of a mother and her child. As soon as a child is placed with Jonah’s Journey, caregivers start discussions with birthmothers about their plans after release in order to give them the best chance at a fresh start.

The Good News

Until just two months ago, in April 2018, 110 careers in Tennessee required licensing by a state board. Many of those licenses gated careers in blue collar jobs such as cosmetology and manual labor positions. Those state boards could deny a license because a person had a criminal record.

A recent bill passed in both the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives that requires state boards to assess whether the criminal offense directly relates to the license the person is seeking before the board denies a request. The bill opens a flood of new careers to those with a criminal past.

The bill that passed in April follows a bill from two years ago that effectively “banned the box” for state employers, meaning state entities cannot request information about an applicant’s criminal history until later in the interview process. This move, echoed in states around the country, encourages state employers to take time to consider an applicant and assess whether their criminal history would actually impact the job duties for which they applied.

Importance of Support

Not all women recently released have the skills necessary to receive licensing in any particular field and many have little support to help them find a job or obtain those skills. Even with the progress made, many women face battles to find employment to support them and their family.

Just over a year ago, a birthmother who placed her infant with Jonah’s Journey found a job soon after her release from prison. With help from Jonah’s Journey, she was prepared to reunite with her child except her new job required weekend work, when most daycare facilities are closed.

When Jonah’s Journey relief caregivers John and Rosie McClurken heard about her need, they stepped in to provide weekend childcare when needed. (include hyperlink to McClurken’s blog article)

Looking ahead

Social workers and caregivers with Jonah’s Journey spend months and sometimes years getting to know the women who place children in our care. They spend countless hours praying for their success upon release and then back up those prayers with assistance finding jobs, childcare and housing.

Women who place a child with Jonah’s Journey do so in the best interest of their child. Their goal upon release is to create a stable home where they can resume full-time parenting. Assisting the birthmothers of children in our program with finding employment after their release increases her chances at success, and even more so, brings that family one step closer to ending the cycle of incarceration.

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