Entrepreneurship and Formerly Incarcerated Women

It is commonly known that helping formerly incarcerated individuals find employment significantly reduces recidivism. Barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals include discrimination, lack of work experience, and employer-liability issues. According to Forbes, helping formerly incarcerated women overcome obstacles to employment through encouraging entrepreneurship will not only help reduce recidivism but also give women opportunities otherwise unavailable to them.

There are several reasons why employers might not want to hire formerly incarcerated women. Besides outright discrimination, employers might be held liable for their employees’ actions. They might perceive individuals who are formerly incarcerated as a potential liability that they can’t risk either legally or financially. This can be further exacerbated by the fact that women typically work in jobs related to childcare or secretarial roles, jobs that require high levels of trust between employers and the employees.

Another factor in finding jobs for formerly-incarcerated individuals is age. The average age for re-entry (when individuals re-enter society) is older, well past the age when most people are applying for entry-level jobs. Though age discrimination is technically illegal, it is commonly known that many employers prefer younger candidates. This puts women re-entering society at a significant disadvantage.
For decades there has been advocacy dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated individuals find employment. While well-intentioned, often measures meant to help formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs have failed. One such measure, known as “ban the box” eliminated the option for employers to ask whether a job applicant has a criminal history. To find this information, employers would have to conduct a background check, an expensive and time-consuming process. The goal of this initiative was to help formerly incarcerated individuals get further along in the job process to better increase the chance that an employer would hire individuals based not on their incarceration status, but their qualities as a candidate. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case.

woman looking through window in jail

According to a study from researchers at Texas A and M and the University of Oregon, “the decrease in employment in these two groups is strong evidence that employers are using statistical discrimination, meaning that they are less likely to hire black and Hispanic males because those demographics are more likely to include people with criminal backgrounds. This suggests that black and Hispanic men without criminal records are being disadvantaged by ban the box laws, (Casey Leins)”. The results of this study stress how complicated the issue of helping formerly incarcerated individuals find work is, and how carefully any policy needs to be crafted to address this issue. While the results from the “ban the box” initiative focuses primarily on men, there are particular barriers formerly incarcerated women face when attempting to find a job.

Jesse Kelly’s article in R Street “Examining the types of jobs formerly incarcerated women are applying for can potentially shed some light on why men are more successful in finding employment after release. Jamie Gullen, an attorney in the Employment Unit at Community Legal Services of Pennsylvania, believes that women are more likely to apply for work in the retail and healthcare fields, both of which rely heavily on criminal background checks. For example, according to the National Retail Federation, 87 percent of retailers in the United States use criminal background checks as part of their hiring process.

Men, on the other hand, tend to apply for jobs in the construction, transportation, and manufacturing industries, which are less likely to rely on background checks and thus more likely to hire formerly incarcerated individuals. These fields, however, are less accessible to women because of stereotypes about women’s abilities held by employers and co-workers and because of the difficulty mothers, in particular, have with the daily working hours this type of work requires, (Jesse Kelly, 2)”. In addition, many women reentering society have children, which makes it more difficult to find employment due to the cost of childcare. Setting aside structural disadvantages, discrimination is still very much an obstacle for formerly-incarcerated women. In A Higher Hurdle: Barriers to Employment for Formerly Incarcerated Women published by UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Justice, women who disclosed that they had been incarcerated were less likely to receive positive responses from employers than non-formerly incarcerated women.

Obviously, if current employers are unable or unwilling to hire formerly incarcerated women, one potential solution is to give formerly incarcerated women the tools they need to become their own employers. We can utilize technology to remove the barriers to entry for formerly-incarcerated women by emphasizing women creating whatever goods or services they would like to provide from home. This would accommodate both current Covid restrictions and women who care for children. Obviously, there are some goods or services that cannot be made using the resources a house would provide. This is where the idea of a shared warehouse comes from. A philanthropic organization could organize a multi-use space that multiple women could work from. The HBIC HQ Foundation provides a virtual and accessible education program designed to guide each participant through the principles of entrepreneurship and personal leadership in an effort to help these women create a financial foundation for their future, no matter where they are today.

Until this current fundamental disparity and discrimination is corrected, the most promising course of action is to empower women to become entrepreneurs. HBIC HQ currently has a startup incubator grant program for graduates of the Pave the Path to Success program that could be a very successful tool used to address this problem. Donations and Sponsorships to HBIC HQ raises funds to increase the grant money that could be granted to formerly-incarcerated women who have a startup idea. HBIC HQ prioritizes grant money to candidate startups contingent on the women hiring other candidates to help with their business.

By giving formerly incarcerated the ability to become self-employed, we can simultaneously reduce recidivism, and give individuals a good chance at becoming successful after reentering society. Education is key to helping formerly incarcerated women create successful businesses. Providing opportunities for formerly incarcerated women is a moral imperative. From a societal perspective, we should be investing resources into reducing recidivism. We don’t want to release people from prison and give them no resources to become reformed. This is why HBIC HQ provides grant money and education specifically designed to help formerly incarcerated women gain the tools they need to become successful entrepreneurs.

Other Works Cited

Doleac, Jennifer L., and Benjamin Hansen. The Unintended Consequences of “Ban the Box”: Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories Are Hidden. Aug. 2018.
Morris,, Monique W., et al. A HIGHER HURDLE: Barriers to Employment for Formerly Incarcerated Women. Dec. 2008.
“Ban the Box’ Laws Could Negatively Impact Minorities.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2019-09-10/ban-the-box-laws-could-negatively-impact-minorities.
Doleac, Jennifer L. “‘Ban the Box’ Does More Harm than Good.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 July 2016, www.brookings.edu/opinions/ban-the-box-does-more-harm-than-good/.
Otterbein, Holly. “During Job Search, Criminal Records More Likely to Hinder Women of Color.” WHYY, WHYY, 1 Apr. 2014, whyy.org/articles/during-job-search-criminal-records-more-likely-to-hinder-women-of-color/By giving formerly incarcerated the ability to become self-employed, we can simultaneously reduce recidivism, and give individuals a good chance at becoming successful after reentering society.

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