Hartford Foundation Submits Testimony on Senate Bill 101, An Act Concerning Workforce Development Programs for Incarcerated Person and Persons Reentering the Community After Incarceration

Read the Foundation's Testimony

On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving submitted testimony to the legislature’s Commerce Committee in support of Senate Bill 101, An Act Concerning Workforce Development Programs for Incarcerated Persons and Persons Reentering the Community After Incarceration.

As part of the Foundation’s efforts to dismantle structural racism and improve social and economic mobility for Black and Latinx residents of Greater Hartford, the Hartford Foundation seeks to increase stable employment opportunities for adults and youth in our region facing barriers to employment. Our efforts work towards accelerating inclusive economic growth and increasing opportunities for engaging people who often have been left behind. This requires us to educate, train, and retain talent, including underserved and underrepresented populations, to meet the needs of employers more fully. The proposed Department of Economic and Community Development evaluation informs this ongoing work.

This work recognizes that all residents of our region need access to training and employment options that provide a sustaining wage. Our efforts focus on increasing training opportunities, hiring and retention of residents with significant barriers to employment, including returning citizens and opportunity youth disconnected from school and work.  

Research has demonstrated that people employed after release are less likely to return to prison. Using time in prison to develop essential skills can increase the ability of people once released to qualify for jobs in the community. We need to be committed to ensuring access to education and workforce development programs for men and women incarcerated, and as they rebuild their lives in the community, as an essential strategy for preparing for employment and successful reentry. For these reasons the Foundation supports Senate Bill 101’s provision to direct the Department of Economic and Community Development to evaluate these workforce development programs.

The Foundation has funded critical reentry supports to help returning citizens succeed, including preemployment training and job placement assistance offered through the Reentry Welcome Center in Hartford and the BEST Chance Program, which provide individuals with access to basic services and referrals to numerous other programs. Over the past three years, the Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) also expanded legal services available to Greater Hartford youth ages 16 to 23 transitioning from confinement to address access to education, employment, and other basic needs.

It is important for DECD to evaluate the landscape of programming offered to returning citizens to ensure that state-funded programs are well structured and coordinated. Community-based reentry workforce training programs ideally need to build on programming people receive while in prison to support continuity and avoid duplication. We also need to consider the impact of the pandemic in prisons and strategies for continuing to make training programs accessible. The greatest challenge to creating career opportunities for returning citizens is finding employers willing to consider giving them an opportunity.

Our investments in supporting returning citizens have shown us that with support can make a successful reentry into the community. For this reason, the Foundation offers its support for Senate Bill 101 including the creation of an employer toolkit to facilitate employment of people returning from incarceration. We need to ensure that education and training institutions have what they need to build the skills and experience returning citizens need to succeed in the 21st century. We also recognize that businesses must play a bigger role in guiding the content of education and workforce training programs to meet their needs. We must also support businesses in exploring ways to ensure their work environments are inclusive and supportive for all workers.

The toolkit should highlight the array of services and supports available to returning citizens to ensure workers are supported in being successful in the workplace. For example, BEST Chance participants can receive job retention services to support successful transition into new jobs. BEST Chance also assists active participants with obtaining clothing for work, transportation assistance with bus passes, and works to connect clients with community partners for additional assistance to address challenges with childcare or housing. These supports are critical to sustaining new jobs and advancing career pathways.

To complement the toolkit DECD will develop, employers will need more opportunities to talk with other employers who have opened jobs to qualified returning citizens. It’s important to hear their experience in hiring people who have a criminal record, both firsthand accounts of the benefits and safeguards integrated into their hiring policies and practices. Employers already hiring returning citizens will be an important resource in informing the toolkit.

The Foundation is eager to partner with legislators, advocates and businesses to eliminate barriers to employment for returning citizens to ensure that all residents have an opportunity to participate in the workforce and achieve economic stability and have opportunities to thrive and enhance Connecticut’s economy.