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JPMorgan Chase giving 2nd chance to those with criminal background

This article, by Mark Williams originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch on Friday, November 27, 2019

JPMorgan Chase & Co., central Ohio’s largest private employer, wants to do more to help those with a criminal history find work. The bank is hiring more people with a criminal background and investing in cities in collaboration with businesses to create more opportunities for those struggling to find work because of their past.

JPMorgan Chase - Photo Credit Evan Weese, Columbus Business First

The nation’s biggest bank wants to give people with a criminal background a better shot at finding a job.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., central Ohio’s largest private employer with about 20,000 workers, has laid out an agenda in which the bank is promising to invest more in communities in collaboration with other businesses, including to create more opportunities for more people with a criminal background who are struggling to find work.

“There is a need for businesses to reconsider how they engage and kind of incorporate individuals with criminal histories in their talent pool,” said Monique Baptiste, Chase’s vice president of workforce strategies for global philanthropy.

Chase hired 2,100 people in the U.S. with criminal backgrounds in 2018, about 10% of the company’s new hires. Many were convicted of crimes such as disorderly conduct, drug possession and drunken driving. The workers are employed in entry-level jobs such as processing transactions or servicing accounts.

Beyond that, Chase has committed in cities such as Chicago and Detroit to do more to help connect people with criminal backgrounds with well-paying jobs, tools to achieve financial goals and entrepreneurship training.

Chase’s initiative comes as more and more employers are taking similar actions to help those with a criminal background be considered for work.

Over the past decade or so, for example, the state government and many Ohio cities and counties eliminated the “Have you even been convicted of a felony?” question along with any other questions pertaining to criminal records from employment applications.

Some states have taken that further and banned companies from asking the question.

In 2015, the Obama administration launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge in which companies promised to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance.

Last year, President Donald Trump signed criminal justice reform legislation that reduces mandatory minimum sentences in certain cases and helps released inmates transition back into society.

In Columbus, companies such as Hot Chicken Takeover and CleanTurn Enterprises have concentrated on hiring those with criminal backgrounds.

Huntington Bancshares has had programs in correctional facilities across its footprint, educating inmates on personal finance issues and entrepreneurship.

Huntington also has eliminated the questions about criminal background on its applications and doesn’t check for a criminal history until an applicant has been offered a job.

“Huntington’s defining characteristic is ‘welcome,’ and that extends from customers to employees,” the company said in a statement. “We are eager to access the best talent for each position.”

Still, more needs to be done.

The unemployment rate is an estimated 27% for the 5 million ex-offenders in the U.S., according to a 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative. The overall national unemployment rate was 3.6% in October.

More than 600,000 people are released from prisons each year, according to the group.

Having a criminal background shouldn’t be an automatic disqualification from getting a job, said Andrea Applegate, founder and president of Applegate Talent Strategies in Columbus.

“They may have all the skills, training and education to do the job,” she said.

Andrew Doehrel, president and CEO at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said his membership is taking much more interest in sentencing reform, something that wouldn’t have been done 10 or 20 years ago, in part to address the issue.

“There’s much more awareness, much more social acceptance that just because (an applicant has a criminal background) doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in the workforce,” he said. “They may have other skill sets.”

One way companies can help is by enacting specific plans to address the issue, such as making sure they are connected to groups that can help those with criminal backgrounds secure stable housing or a car, or even initiate programs to help them before they leave prison, Applegate said.

“Progressive companies are willing to find alternative sources for the workforce,” she said.

The issue is especially critical right now with the low jobless rate.

“With the unemployment rate so low, you have to look hard and to look everywhere, in nontraditional places,” she said.

Chase eliminated the question about criminal history from its application in early 2018. Hiring managers don’t know whether the people they are interviewing have a criminal record, and Chase won’t check an applicant’s background until a conditional offer is made.

Federal banking regulations, meanwhile, have become looser when it comes to banks hiring people who have committed minor crimes, and that makes sense to Baptiste.

“If it has nothing to do with the job, if it doesn’t put the employer or the firm at risk, we should give that (applicant) a fair shake,” she said.

Chase is working with community and government leaders to address the barriers to employment for those with criminal backgrounds and help them develop skills that make them more employable. Beyond that, Chase will be looking at such issues as small-business capital, affordable housing and policies that allow incarcerated people, for example, to have access to federal Pell grants.

Long term, emphasizing such policies can pay off for employers, Applegate said.

“People who have that as a motivation, to stay employed and to keep themselves out of jail, those people could be really loyal and motivated employees,” Applegate said.

Mark Williams is a Business reporter for The Columbus Dispatch.


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