Today’s Solutions: October 24, 2021

We’ve recently shared stories about old jeans becoming new pairs of pants and bricks made from old construction waste. We are so eager to give old materials a second chance in the circular economy, but count out our citizens after one criminal conviction. In this week’s Thought Leader Series, chief people officer at Zoom, Lynne Oldham, discusses how her company is actively supporting previously-incarcerated individuals and how others can do the same.

The United States makes up 4.25 percent of the world’s population but is home to 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. Although people of color make up 37 percent of the country’s population, they are 67 percent of the country’s prison population. Despite these incredibly high incarceration rates, the US adds insult to injury by making it incredibly difficult for incarcerated Americans to reassimilate and thrive after release. Housing and employment restrictions, combined with disenfranchisement places a lifelong weight on the shoulders of felons. 

Turning the priority of incarceration systems from punishment to rehabilitation is a critical step for reducing the US prison population and empowering felons. Working with prisons and incarcerated women, Oldham got to see the results of rehabilitation strategies first hand. In her research, she also found that incarcerated women who held jobs in prison, where they were taught and worked to hone sales skills, were almost 35 percent less likely to re-offend within their first year after prison and almost 54 percent lower within three years of being released. 

This inspired Oldham to engage with The Last Mile (TLM) program established by Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti at San Quentin and other prisons to teach coding to inmates. After visiting the prison and seeing the program in action, she made the decision to employ TLM graduates at Zoom. Using Next Chapter, a program started by tech company Slack, in partnership with The Last Mile, the Kellogg Foundation, and FREEAMERICA, Zoom helps employ incarcerated individuals after release and interviews TLM candidates for open positions. 

There are many layers to unpack to undo the systemic racism and harsh incarceration policies that make up our dysfunctional criminal justice system. Creating pathways for inmates to find well-paying and meaningful work after their release is just one piece of the puzzle, but we are excited to see where these TLM professionals end up and if other companies take up the call to increase opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

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