People who have been charged with, convicted of or incarcerated for a crime make up 8.2 percent of Oklahoma’s population.
One year after release, 60 to 75 percent of those who are “justice involved” remain unemployed.
That’s a large portion of Oklahoma’s workforce that is out of work or underemployed because of the barriers to employment at a time when many are predicting an employment crisis in the coming years as the Baby Boomers retire and the skills gap grows.
“We have plenty of jobs going unfilled and not enough people to fill them. It becomes clear that this is a pocket of people that could easily get ready for work and into jobs,” said Shelley Cadamy, executive director of Workforce Tulsa.
Workforce Tulsa, along with the University of Tulsa College Of Law’s Lobeck Taylor Community Advocacy Clinic, released the findings of a report Monday that outlines the barriers justice-involved people face when seeking employment and some steps to help overcome those barriers.
“Our growth and our ability to thrive as a community is completely dependent on the attraction, retention and development of a strong workforce,” said Martha Webb-Jones, director of human resources at Spirit AeroSystems and chairwoman of the Workforce Tulsa board.
She added that Workforce Tulsa should serve as the hub of an integrated system of individuals and agencies focused on placing talent in jobs today and preparing individuals in the community for the jobs of tomorrow.
“Anything we can do at a state or local level to remove barriers and expedite the placement of individuals into family-sustaining jobs will yield benefits to all Oklahomans both economically and socially,” Webb-Jones said. “This is particularly true when we talk about our residents who are justice involved.”
University of Tulsa President Dr. Gerard Clancy said his familiarity of the issue stems from his psychiatric work earlier in his career. Many of those patients would self-medicate because of mental health issues and that would often lead to run-ins with law enforcement and a criminal record.
Despite successful treatment of their mental health diagnosis and their desire to work, often those patients found themselves struggling to find work because of their criminal past.
“Those that are justice involved, their unemployment rates are four times higher than the general population. Part of the solution for the current shortage of talent and the future talent crisis is better policies and practices for those that are justice involved,” Clancy said. “We need everyone who can work to actually be working.”
Proposed policies to address the situation include streamlining the expungement process, reforming the occupational licensing system, educating the justice involved on child support modifications and establishing risk-mitigation funds for landlords.
“If followed, the report’s recommendations would create more resilient families, reduce Oklahoma’s huge prison population and infuse millions of dollars into our cities and state’s economy by getting those who can work to work,” Clancy said.