Expanding Employment Opportunities for Returning Citizens in Atlanta

Posted October 16, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog expandingeconomicreturning 2017

Geor­gia’s return­ing cit­i­zens — indi­vid­u­als who are return­ing to their fam­i­lies and the com­mu­ni­ty after incar­cer­a­tion — are expe­ri­enc­ing a smoother tran­si­tion thanks to the Geor­gia Jus­tice Project, which receives fund­ing from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. The orga­ni­za­tion is work­ing to min­i­mize the effects of a crim­i­nal record and help return­ing cit­i­zens access the oppor­tu­ni­ties nec­es­sary to regain their finan­cial foot­ing and bet­ter sup­port their fam­i­lies and communities.

Geor­gia Jus­tice Project has helped secure key pol­i­cy reforms, including:

  • the his­toric removal of Georgia’s per­ma­nent life­time ban on food stamps for indi­vid­u­als with a drug-relat­ed felony;
  • the retroac­tive rein­state­ment of driver’s licens­es revoked for drug offenses;
  • tax incen­tives for employ­ees who hire parolees and for pri­vate-sec­tor hous­ing providers who rent to peo­ple with cer­tain crim­i­nal his­to­ries; and
  • the seal­ing of first offend­er records for non­vi­o­lent criminals.

Com­pared to the rest of the nation, Geor­gia has the high­est per­cent­age of peo­ple in jail, prison, pro­ba­tion or parole — a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of whom are African Amer­i­can. These indi­vid­u­als do not live in iso­la­tion: They are par­ents, care­givers and bread­win­ners, and they often face daunt­ing tasks in try­ing to find work and rebuild their fam­i­ly and neigh­bor­hood networks.

When we stig­ma­tize return­ing cit­i­zens and exclude them from our work­force, every­one los­es,” says Janelle Williams, who leads the Foundation’s fam­i­ly eco­nom­ic suc­cess work in Atlanta. We leave a lot of tal­ent and poten­tial on the table, and com­mu­ni­ties end up suf­fer­ing for it. The good news is that there are proven strate­gies that can help peo­ple ful­ly step back into their roles as moth­ers, fathers and neigh­bors when they return.”

Accord­ing to a recent study by the Nation­al Employ­ment Law Project, remov­ing the bar­ri­ers that return­ing cit­i­zens face is not just good for fam­i­lies. It’s also good for the econ­o­my and pub­lic safe­ty. Among the study’s findings:

  • a job is the sin­gle most impor­tant fac­tor in reduc­ing the like­li­hood a per­son will reoffend;
  • exclud­ing indi­vid­u­als with a crim­i­nal record from the work­force costs the nation’s gross domes­tic prod­uct bil­lions; and
  • work­ers with records have been found to be more pro­duc­tive than work­ers with­out crim­i­nal records.

Geor­gia Jus­tice Project recent­ly part­nered with anoth­er Casey grantee, Atlanta Career­Rise, to launch a col­lab­o­ra­tive of busi­ness lead­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions and fun­ders that will exam­ine addi­tion­al strate­gies for sup­port­ing return­ing cit­i­zens, includ­ing back­ground-check require­ments and employ­er obligations.

While we still have a long road ahead, we are encour­aged by the progress our part­ners have cham­pi­oned through­out the state,” says Williams. This is ulti­mate­ly about enabling all Geor­gians to par­tic­i­pate in our shared vision for a stronger econ­o­my and thriv­ing communities.”

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