As protesters filled streets across the country and around the world in support of Black Lives Matter’s fight against police brutality, the members of the grassroots organization Step Up Louisiana launched a proposal to address a second aspect of systemic racism: hiring practices.
“As our economy reopens, formerly incarcerated people who are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, deserve a fair chance in hiring,” said Step Up Louisiana Co-Director Ben Zucker.
On a packed webinar, supporters hear from elected officials, business owners, Step Up Louisiana members, and formerly incarcerated people on how the Fair Chance in Hiring Act could make a significant difference in ending systemic racism and give formerly incarcerated people a fair chance at a fresh start.
As noted by the Vera Institute of Justice, although Black people represent only 33% of Louisiana’s overall population, they make up 52% of people in the state’s jails, and 67% of people in the state’s prisons. Latinx people are also overrepresented, but errors and inconsistencies in data reporting has made it difficult to correctly measure the effects of systemic racism on this group locally.
The Fair Chance in Hiring Act would give workers who have been kept out of work due to prior arrests or convictions the chance to re-enter the job market. Currently, although many people use their time while incarcerated to further their education or learn new skills, they often find themselves unable to utilize those skills or experience once they attempt to re-enter the job market. Not only is getting a job incredibly difficult with a prior conviction or arrest history, but those who are able to get a job are also often confined to entry-level positions that do not use their skills or experience.
“The idea that someone had paid their debt to society and still can’t get a second chance contradicts the work of justice systems,” said former Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter. Although many inside the criminal justice system claim that the intent is to reform criminals and help them become productive members of society, many formerly incarcerated people find it nearly impossible to find a job once they have been released. Those that do find work are often confined to low paying, entry-level jobs that do not use their experience and skills. Without access to decent employment, some find it nearly impossible to afford basic necessities, leading to increased rates of recidivism.
The Fair Chance in Hiring Act would work to change that.
“It’s not about what they have done in the past, it’s about judging a man about what they have done today,” said New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams. “It’s about empowering people with an opportunity. We should invest in people; you’ll find once you have invested in someone the loyalty and pride you see in someone is priceless.”
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans specializing in politics and social justice issues. In 2019, she was given the title of “Most Fearless” along with Big Easy Magazine by The Bayou Brief. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_