Over the course of the last several months, the Maryland Chamber Foundation has been actively engaged in seeking ways to address the challenges faced by the ex-offender community as these individuals prepare for and seek employment post-incarceration. We believe that addressing the issues associated with second chance hiring and finding pathways for employment for the previously incarcerated is socially responsible, as well as a workforce development and cost savings opportunity. Following the conclusion of the last legislative session, we convened a group of interested stakeholders, including the business community and justice reform advocates, in order to investigate the proactive steps to be taken to increase employment and reduce recidivism for this vulnerable population. Thus far, our discussions have centered on the following topics: 1) education and training during and post-incarceration, and 2) employer protections and incentives to hire.
We are aware that there are any number of other initiatives underway seeking to address this topic, and we are working with those entities in attempt to combine and/or coordinate our efforts to maximize effectiveness. To date, we have held meetings with the following organizations to gather information and examine best practices: Thurgood Marshall Fund, Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and NAACP.
Below please find a high-level summary of our discussions and activities to date.
Education and Training
Second Chance Pell Grants
The Maryland Chamber is looking to engage with the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, as well as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), through the Second Chance Pell Grant program. This initiative will increase the educational attainment of the current prison population, allowing for more opportunities upon re-entry.
Correctional Education Resources
We are looking to engage with the Department of Labor’s Office of Correctional Education to see what role the business community can play in their successful efforts to increase education and workforce development training among the prison population.
Examining the work done through the 2016 enactment of the Justice Reinvestment Act, which has presented additional in-system opportunities for those currently incarcerated, will allow for further development of educational and workforce skill sets.
We have discussed the following pieces of legislation and regulations that seek to increase investment in and opportunity for the previously incarcerated. We have not taken an official position on any of the listed pieces of legislation. Instead, we have utilized the task force to bring interested stakeholders together to discuss an advocacy strategy as we prepare for the 2020 session.
Employer Protections & Incentives to Hire
Employer Immunity from Negligent Hiring
During the 2019 Legislative Session, and previous sessions, a number of bills have been introduced with the goal of reducing or eliminating specified liability on employers hiring ex-offenders. Based on existing case law and the fear of litigation, many employers actively avoid hiring ex-offenders. Reducing these barriers would lead to increased employment for this population.
Additionally, we will be examining proactive ways in to address the lack of preemption language in the “ban the box” bill that was recently passed by the General Assembly and vetoed by Governor Hogan. Currently Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have versions of the bill language which stand in conflict with each other and create compliance issues for multi-jurisdictional employers.
Parole Psychologist Review
Currently there is one doctor evaluating all prisoners looking to be paroled. Examining ways to change regulations or funding in this regard will help move more individuals out of incarceration and into employment opportunities. Moreover, we believe this change could save money to the state as a whole.
The following organizations and individuals are part of the second chance task force: