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How Tech Firms Are Embracing Ex-prisoners

Fortune

By Jennifer Alsever

Richard Bronson made millions on Wall Street in the 1990s, but by 2005 he found himself destitute with no home and no money—and only his sister’s couch on which to sleep. No one would give him a job or even entertain the idea. “I tried to put the past behind me, but doors were slamming in my face,” says Bronson.

The event that turned him into a pariah? A two-year stint in federal prison for securities fraud that followed Bronson’s time as a partner at the infamous Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm, dramatized in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Eventually, nine years after his release from prison, Bronson landed a job at a nonprofit in New York that aimed to help ex-convicts get back on their feet. There he learned that, as a white male with a college education, his reentry into society was easier than most—especially compared with people of color with no education. Says Bronson: “As long as there’s the Internet to search, you’re walking around with a life sentence.”

That mindset is changing as the number of people coming out of prisons grows—600,000 released from state prisons each year and 11 million from jails—and jobs go unfilled. Add to that the fact that the U.S. spends $87 billion a year imprisoning 2.24 million people—and at least half of them get arrested again within eight years of release.

Contributing to their struggle is the challenge of getting hired. Nearly half of employers still ask for criminal history on job applications, according to a 2017 survey by Sterling Talent Solutions, a firm specializing in employee background checks.

In 2016, more companies including Facebook, Google, and Koch Industries made public their promise to consider hiring people with criminal records as part of former President Obama’s Fair Chance Pledge. Bronson jumped in to help them.

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