On Monday, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin joined Oz Griebel, President and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, for a forum on hiring returning citizens and promoting second chances. The meeting was presented in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Correction, Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Greater Hartford Reentry Council, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
“I want to thank the MetroHartford Alliance and all of the employers who are a part of this important effort to eliminate barriers and give people a second chance,” said Mayor Bronin. “The most important message from this forum is that giving someone a second chance and looking beyond their past can actually be good for business. Employers tell me all the time that, when they hire individuals with criminal records, they often turn out to be among the most loyal, dedicated, hardworking employees – because they know how hard it was to get that chance.”
Bronin noted that, with the end of the Obama Administration, it’s even more important that we promote second chance initiatives at the local level and work directly with private employers. “We’ve been very lucky that the Obama Administration made re-entry and second chances a priority, promoting the Fair Chance Business Pledge and legislation to ban the box,” said Bronin. “We may not have that same perspective or vision in Washington with this new administration, and that makes the work being done here today by private employers and local organizations all the more important.”
Cheryl McDonald, one of the owners of Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, spoke about her experience hiring individuals who have previously been incarcerated. Opening their first location in Windsor three years ago, Cheryl and Jamie McDonald’s first two hires were justice involved. Bear’s has since grown quickly and has established relationships with community providers in Hartford, and now approximately half of all Bear’s employees were formerly incarcerated. Bear’s has also been an exemplary employer by raising the minimum wage for all employees to $15 per hour. Ms. McDonald, coming from a background in human resources, said that she “goes with her gut” when interviewing people with a criminal record and discussed a mutual respect she has formed with her employees. Mayor Bronin praised Bear’s as the perfect example of a company that is “doing well by doing good.”
Oz Griebel, President of the MetroHartford Alliance, discussed the wide range of benefits in hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. “While we need to discuss the challenges people face in making the transition back to their communities and society at large, we want to promote the training and support available to help these individuals secure employment, an absolutely critical component to that transition, and to help employers that can benefit from this additional source of talent. The Mayor’s leadership and that of Commissioner Semple, the dedication of numerous service providers, the enthusiasm of employers who have already made successful hires, and, most of all, the stories of those who have been hired inspire all of us to commit to the sustained success of this important civic, economic, and social initiative.”
Two returning citizens shared their stories about completing education and working with Community Partners in Action to find employment after being incarcerated. A panel comprised of Commissioner Scott Semple from the Department of Corrections, Maureen Price Boreland from Community Partners in Action, Cheryl McDonald from Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, and Brian Delude from the Court Support Services Division of the Judicial Branch also shared their first hand experiences in working with returning citizens.
Commissioner Semple, among other things, established dedicated reentry units inside prisons and is committed to reengaging employers. Under Governor Malloy, Connecticut has emerged as a leader for the nation in decreasing the prison population. “We have seen a 6.2% decrease in the prison population, and a 12% increase in the community supervision model. The Department of Corrections acts as an experimental site implementing creative new programs to get people educated and back to work,” said Commissioner Semple.