An Opportunity Agenda: The Business Community’s Role in Re-Entry

Charles Koch Institute senior research fellow Vikrant Reddy opened this plenary panel session by pointing out that it is impossible to talk about re-entry without talking about the role of the business community. Without a job, ex-offenders are likely to wind up back in prison. The panelists noted that the business community has a significant opportunity to reduce recidivism, improve the lives of ex-offenders, and reap the benefits of hiring talented employees by hiring ex-offenders.

Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, began by noting that Texas spends too much money administering its prison system and gets too little in return. Hammond explained the importance of embracing probation as an alternative to incarceration in appropriate cases, thus increasing the number of people available for work.

Koch Companies Public Sector senior vice president and general counsel Mark Holden explained why Koch Industries led the way on “banning the box,” or removing the question that requires job applicants to disclose whether they’ve had a criminal conviction, and why it makes sense for the broader business community. He argued that because one in three adults has a criminal record, businesses fighting for the best talent effectively rule out one third of potential employees and make themselves less competitive if they decide not to hire ex-offenders.

Kurt E. Moore, owner of K-Love’s Auto Detailing in Indianapolis, told his own re-entry story and noted the importance of character transformation in ensuring that individuals released from prison not only have a job, but can keep that job. People coming out of prison need to be taught the importance of being on time, doing what they say, and following through in order to use their entrepreneurial skills for constructive rather than destructive purposes. Ex-offenders, he said, need someone to walk alongside them and give them opportunities to use their skills for something positive.

Tom Bennett, development director of EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, noted the importance of identifying whether businesses are deterred from hiring ex-offenders by compliance or by culture, and challenging those employers to consider taking a chance on an ex-offender.

The panelists agreed that more re-entry programs both in and out of prison are crucial for reducing recidivism and enhancing public safety and prosperity. To learn more about ways to support this need, please visit the Charles Koch Foundation’s Request for Proposals page.

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