‘Fair Chance’ Initiatives Give Much More Than Just a Second Chance

Fair Chance Collaborative to build off existing community efforts

by Emma Garcia

Roughly one-third of adults in the United States have a criminal record. Arizona has the eighth highest incarceration rate in the nation, with more than 50,000 incarcerated and more than 70,000 on probation or parole. The number of people in county and city jails in Arizona is even larger, resulting in the release of more than 200,000 individuals each year.

The data underscores the challenges and importance of ensuring that justice-involved individuals receive the comprehensive supportive services and training they need, both before and after they are released. Moreover, approaches for incarcerated individuals with first-time and non-violent offenses are ill-suited to manage the dramatic increase seen in both populations. There’s also an exponential growth in the cost to the families and communities impacted, as 1 in 5 children in the U.S. has had a parent incarcerated.

Whether having faced charges for a misdemeanor or felony, it can often be difficult for those involved with the justice system to find a job. Acclimating to society and reestablishing life after prison can be nearly impossible without a source of income. Without a fair chance to secure an employment opportunity, some of these individuals have no viable financial recourse.

Not only can it be difficult to find a job after exiting the justice system, but there is a societal prejudice that creates a roadblock for those seeking employment. These biases include stigmatization, assumption of recidivism and a general sense of mistrust.

As part of its MC2026 plan for Mighty Change, Valley of the Sun United Way, among other Arizona nonprofits, is bringing awareness to the untapped potential and strong job performance of people who have been involved with the justice system. Specifically, Valley of the Sun United Way’s goals in workforce development include an increase in the achievement of higher-paying jobs by 20% and a 33% increase in individuals who are equipped to earn a living-wage job. To reach these bold goals, a greater focus must be placed on employing and training previously incarcerated individuals.

Fair Chance Initiatives

In 2021, Arizona enacted a law that allows persons convicted of certain criminal offenses the opportunity to set aside a prior conviction and seek a Certificate of Second Chance. The certificate removes some barriers in seeking occupational licenses and allows recipients to apply for employment and housing opportunities they would have previously not been able to. In addition, various Arizona agencies and organizations are providing pre- and post-release training and supportive services to address their needs and help them get good jobs and careers.

These and other fair chance initiatives can help eliminate bias, enable businesses to hire more qualified workers, and contribute to the overall improvement of the economy. These efforts strive to ensure that involvement with the justice system will not define a person’s future or hamper them from future opportunities to succeed for themselves, for their families and for our community.

The benefits of employing those with involvement in the justice system are significant. By reducing the stigma and increasing workforce development resources, previously incarcerated individuals can earn a living, be self-sufficient and contribute to society. It also helps the many families who have suffered financially and emotionally while a parent served their sentence in the justice system.

Simply put, Arizona must provide resources and opportunities for justice-involved individuals. This is the task at hand and one we are committed to seeing through.

A New Fair Chance Collaborative

Valley of the Sun United Way is forming a new Fair Chance Collaborative to help address the multi-dimensional needs of individuals in the Phoenix metropolitan area who have been involved with the justice system. The collaborative was catalyzed by a $500,000 investment from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

The new collaborative will build off existing community efforts and will explore comprehensive and interconnected fair chance approaches, including job training, placement, hiring and retention, as well as resources for housing, healthcare, financial health, entrepreneurial training and other needs of justice-involved individuals.

Initial goals include providing technical assistance to nonprofits that assist justice-involved individuals as well as to employers working to increase fair chance hiring and retention. The collaborative will bring together employers, fair chance service providers, educational institutions, public and government stakeholders, community leaders, justice-involved individuals and other key stakeholders.

By the Numbers; Workforce Reentry

Justice-involved individuals are often left jobless, not because they lack a desire to work but because they face immense hurdles.

With a focus on workforce development and fair chance opportunities, there is great potential to reduce unemployment for justice-involved individuals.

  • It typically takes formerly incarcerated individuals at least six months to find a job after being released.
  • Studies have found family income declines 22% while a father is in the justice system and remains 15% lower after being released.
  • An analysis found large employment disparities for formerly incarcerated individuals, with national unemployment rates higher than 27%.

Increasing fair chance hiring and supportive services for justice-involved individuals will ultimately strengthen Arizona’s workforce and enhance our economy. Corporate and community partners who are interested in learning more about the Fair Chance Collaborative should contact Vannessa Moreno at Valley of the Sun United Way.

Emma Garcia is the chief community development and engagement officer at Valley of the Sun United Way. Valley of the Sun United Way envisions a community where every child, family and individual is healthy, has a safe place to live, and has every opportunity to succeed in school, in life and in work.

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