Every year, approximately 10,000 individuals in Maryland are released from prison, with many of them returning to Baltimore City. Unfortunately, within three years, 40 percent of those released (or 4,000) are rearrested, and the unemployment rate among those recently released exceeds 50 percent. Research indicates that having a job is associated with reduced criminal behavior and can facilitate an individual’s return to society following release from prison. However, a criminal record poses perhaps the greatest barrier to employment, as many employers are reluctant to hire applicants with criminal records.
In 2017, the Abell Foundation supported 11organizations that focus on training and placing job seekers with criminal records into employment. Two of those organizations are highlighted below.
BUILD’s Turnaround Tuesdays
Since 2014, the Abell Foundation has supported the efforts of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) to encourage Johns Hopkins Hospital and University leadership to hire more neighborhood residents, including those with criminal records. BUILD established a candidate pipeline with Turnaround Tuesdays, a BUILD jobs initiative in which residents meet at Zion Baptist Church on Tuesday mornings to receive help in preparing for and finding employment. Last year, with $125,000 in support from Abell, Turnaround Tuesdays placed 205 people into jobs across the city. Average wage at placement was $13.55 per hour.
As part of preparing for employment, Turnaround Tuesday participants are trained as BUILD leaders. They attend leadership training where they learn how to be effective leaders within their community and how they can collectively advocate for BUILD’s job-creation agenda. The organizing and advocacy is paying off: BUILD was instrumental in working with Baltimore hospitals and the Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare to secure funding from the Health Services Cost Review Commission (HSCRC) to create 208 new entry-level positions over the next three years for residents of depressed communities in Baltimore. Of the 205 people placed into jobs last year by BUILD, 38 were trained for HSCRC-identified positions, including Community Health Workers, Peer-to-Peer Counselors, and Certified Nursing Assistants. Average hourly wage at placement for these roles was $15.50 per hour.
These strategies are designed to improve not only job creation, but also job retention. And, according to BUILD, 82 percent of those placed have remained employed at least a year, and only one participant has returned to prison.
Lazarus Rite, Inc.
Lazarus Rite, Inc. is a newly formed nonprofit organization founded by Christopher Ervin, a formerly incarcerated entrepreneur and an advocate for criminal justice reform. Mr. Ervin used his own money to rent a building on Franklin Street and start a re-entry program.
Mr. Ervin obtained his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) more than 15 years ago and works in the waste management and hauling industries, driving tractor trailers and trash trucks. Nationally, as well as locally, there is a documented need for truck drivers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for drivers with Class A and Class B CDLs is projected to grow 5 percent over the next eight years. The earning potential for Class B CDL drivers in Baltimore City ranges from $13 to $16 per hour. Some Class B drivers have an earning potential that exceeds the average salary range based on experience, occupation, and the conditions in which they drive.
In 2016, with a $50,000 grant from the Abell Foundation and a $17,000 grant from the Safe and Sound Campaign, Mr. Ervin became certified as a Class B CDL instructor and purchased a used school bus for on-the-road driving instruction. He and his childhood friend, Wanda Ascencio, enrolled 45 returning citizens into the evening training program. Participants were required to have a valid driver’s license, be physically able to perform the duties stated by state regulations for related careers, and have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED).
Of the 45 returning citizens who enrolled into the training, 25 participants completed the program and 20 did not. Of the remaining 25 completers, 16 obtained their Class B CDL driver’s licenses and are now employed by waste management companies and other employers earning an average wage of $18 per hour. Seven students took the Motor Vehicles Administration written test in May and are expected to be placed into employment. After completing the program, one student took an additional training opportunity and another passed away. The program has a waiting list of more than 50 people.
Mr. Ervin has subsidized the training program with his own money, contributing earnings from his commercial driving income. Recently, however, Lazarus Rite has begun exploring a partnership with Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) to bring the re-entry program and CDL training to the college.
Information published in July 2018.