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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