At Greyston, we’ve pioneered the concept of Open HiringⓇ – hiring with no questions asked and no background checks – to give people who want to work the opportunity to do so.
Over 650,000 people are released from prison every year and they need jobs. Current US Justice Department data shows that about two-thirds are arrested again within three years of their release. How do we end this unproductive and demoralizing cycle?
For starters? Employment through Open Hiring.
Over the past four decades, we have learned that giving a person a job is sometimes not the final solution. The formerly incarcerated have the same practical needs as everyone else. These needs often are more acute, as these individuals are more likely to lack financial, emotional, and social support systems to assist them in their reentry. Today, as more offenders are being released to stem the COVID-19 crisis, working to meet these needs is increasingly important.
Greyston provides job opportunities and chooses to invest costs associated with excluding people from the workforce in wraparound services that enable self-sufficiency and self-reliance. By doing so, we pave the way for individual success, and foster safer, stronger communities. First, of course, there needs to be a willingness to take a chance on someone who wants to work, regardless of his or her past.
Unfortunately, many employers have been unwilling to do so, believing that these applicants are inherently dishonest or likely to commit a crime on the job, or that hiring ex-offenders somehow will damage their company’s reputation.
Many ex-offenders who actively seek employment face significant barriers due to their records, and/or lack of experience, training, or skills. Before COVID, the unemployment rate for these individuals was about 27 percent, higher than any U.S. general rate of employment – even during the Great Depression. That number is sure to increase post-pandemic, and we urgently need to open doors to these individuals through entry-level jobs that yield living wages.
It’s not just a good thing to do; it’s good for business. According to recent surveys, studies, and anecdotal data, workers with criminal records are motivated and productive employees and coworkers. According to ESH Today’s 2018 National Safety Survey, 82 percent of managers and 67 percent of human resources professionals believe that the quality of hire for formerly incarcerated workers is about the same or higher than that for workers without criminal records. Combine this with the fact that companies spend over $4,100 in vetting costs per new hire, employing ex-offenders yields positive bottom-line results.
Today, the argument for Open Hiring is even stronger, as COVID changes our economic landscape. Large companies, most notably those in the retail and healthcare sectors, currently are looking to fill hundreds of thousands of vacancies quickly to meet increased demand, and are wise to relax employment vetting policies and extend jobs to those typically shut out.
It’s not where you’ve been, it’s where you’re going that counts. Greyston is well aware of the need to invest in a person’s potential, regardless of his or her past, and has been working to remove employment barriers in Southwest Yonkers since 1982. One of our most important initiatives is the Greyston Rangers Program, a transitional workforce and urban beautification project that serves residents, businesses, and visitors in our local community.
Over the past two years, the initiative has offered a lifeline to those recently released from the criminal justice system, hiring them into immediate transitional employment on an apprenticeship basis for one month. Our apprentices are paired with mentors, offered job preparedness training, and life skills training, and work with Greyston’s job developer to find a permanent job placement following completion of their apprenticeships.
Since 2018, 85 individuals have graduated from the Rangers program. Of that number, 62 percent have been placed in permanent jobs and 95.3 percent have not been rearrested. We expect to expand the project over the next three years to provide 200 to 300 individuals with transitional employment, followed by permanent jobs with incentivized retention support.
It’s positive impact – especially during an era of unprecedented growth and investment in downtown Yonkers – cannot be understated. According to Daniel Wolf, a neighbor, waterfront property owner, and member of Greyston’s Yonkers Proud Fund, “The Greyston Rangers program is a powerful example of how investing in people’s futures provides opportunity for individuals and the community as a whole. The Rangers play a vital in keeping the streets of Yonkers clean and safe, which greatly benefits businesses, residents, and visitors. The fact that it also offers individuals a path for future success deepens its positive impact.”
That impact is life-changing and measurable. Participants in the Greyston Rangers program experience a recidivism rate of 6.3 percent, compared to the national rate of 44 percent.
However, most important is the renewed sense of purpose, pride, responsibility, and hope gained by each Ranger during the apprenticeship. This is even more evident right now, as these individuals — who are among those most likely to have been excluded from the workforce — are essential employees working every day during the COVID-19 crisis to keep our streets and public spaces clean and safe. While many of us are privileged to work remotely, they are out supporting those on the front lines of the pandemic who must report in to work every day.
My colleague, Dail Moses-Taylor, Director Greyston Workforce Training, Education and Development, sums it up best: “The Rangers continue to show us what fair opportunity looks like when communities benefit from untapped resources within.”
Greyston’s holistic approach works because it considers both the individual and society as a whole. While supporting each apprentice’s reintegration into society, the Rangers Program offers tangible benefits to Southwest Yonkers, and is a pragmatic model for meeting business and municipal needs in the aftermath of COVID-19. As we rely on positive collaboration, selfless giving, and gratitude to conquer a crisis, let’s recognize the need to continue these sentiments as we build a stronger, more resilient community on the other side.
 Horn, Steve. Prison Legal News. September 4, 2018. https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2018/sep/4/27-percent-unemployment-jobs-crisis-hits-ex-prisoners-hardest/
 “2017 Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Report.” Society for Human Resource Management. December 2017. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/2017-Talent-Acquisition-Benchmarking.pdf