Driving down any main thoroughfare in Bend, it's hard not to notice "Help Wanted" signs lingering on the marquees of a variety of businesses, sometimes for months at a time. As of July 2017, Bend's unemployment rate was a mere 3.7 percent, down from a 10-year high of 17.2 percent in March 2009, during the recession. Oregon's unemployment rate is also at an all-time low, at 3.8 percent as of this August. The national average was 3.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With a shrinking number of viable employees out of work, the Governor's Re-entry Council is urging employers to consider hiring candidates with a criminal record. Chaired by Gov. Kate Brown, the Council is made up of 24 stakeholders, including state legislators and state agency directors, committed to helping previous offenders avoid becoming repeat offenders. The council has seven points of focus: re-entry for juveniles, the aging population and veterans, outreach to the business community, education, family/community engagement and community education on sex offender level classification.
The Second Chance Tour, a Council initiative created in partnership with Dave's Killer Bread Foundation, held a workshop in Bend Sept. 11, educating local employers about the benefits of hiring a portion of the workforce often written off. Dave Dahl, whose story can be found on every package of Dave's Killer Bread, returned to work at his family's bakery in 2005 after serving 15 years in prison. Along with his father and brother, Dahl co-founded Dave's Killer Bread. Today, more than 300 employees work at the Milwaukie, Ore., bakery, according to the company's website—one in three of whom has a criminal background.
The current Second Chance tour kicked off in Salem June 6 and continued on through Portland, Bend, Roseburg and Grants Pass, with the last stop in Medford Sept. 20. Workshops included a panel discussion with employers and employees and a second panel of legal experts answering questions about Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliance and risk mitigation.
Looking at Hiring Differently
One of the biggest takeaways of the workshop: encouraging employers to avoid looking at criminal backgrounds as an absolute deal breaker in hiring decisions.
Nicholas Fein, who works in quality assurance for Advanced Reporting background screening services, says that as of 2012, the EEOC suggests basing employment decisions off of an individualized assessment rather than "bright-line rules," which could lead to lawsuits for targeting a specific population.
"Things like if you have three DUIs, you're out or if you have a violent offense, you're out," Fein stated during the workshop. "Instead, use things like nature and gravity of the offense, time that has passed since the offense and completion of sentencing and consider the nature of the job held."
According to a report from the Oregon Department of Corrections, the state has seen a 11.93 percent increase in the prison population since 2007, with 14,876 inmates in the Department of Corrections custody as of Sept. 1 — though that number is expected to fall significantly over the next five years due to the passage of HB 3078, which reduces prison sentences for certain non-violent property crimes. After serving sentences, 93 percent of those individuals will be released and branded with a criminal record. The average time in custody for an inmate in Oregon is 39 months, with incarceration costing taxpayers approximately $100,500, according to the Council's website.
Based on data collected by the Criminal Justice Commission between 1997 and 2014, Deschutes County's three-year recidivism rate—or the rate at which an offender becomes a repeat offender (for those on probation or parole that results in incarceration for a felony)—was 16.4 percent. By comparison, in Multnomah County—home to most of the city of Portland—the three-year rate was 11.8 percent. The rate is 15.8 percent statewide.
A Second Chance Employer
Jim Sanders, an employment manager at Bright Wood mill in Madras, participated in the Second Chance Tour employer panel Sept. 11. He says the mill employs 1,033 people — 25 percent of whom have served time in prison. During the panel, he urged employers to take a chance on employees with criminal records.
"Somebody has to give these people a chance for there to be a positive effect in this society," said Sanders. "And if they don't, the sad part is they may fall back into it."
Sanders also shared the two main qualities he looks for in a Second Chance candidate: accountability and a good-faith effort to improve themselves.
"Have they taken ownership of what they've done and can they look in the mirror and go, you're the problem, right there, you made choices," said Sanders during the panel. "Are they pointing fingers at somebody else saying it's their fault, it's his fault, it's the cop's fault, it's the lawyer's fault—I got screwed. Those are two different things."
Employers of Second Chance workers are eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, an incentive for employing populations that have consistently encountered barriers to employment. Organizations interested in learning more about becoming a Second Chance employer can visit dkbfoundation.org.
Second Chance Tour
503-335-8077 ext. 372