UConn Health Joins NAACP in Campaign to Employ Formerly Incarcerated in Hartford Area

Those who have been released from prison or have an arrest record need training even for entry-level jobs, and then to know where the jobs are.

It’s the best way to keep people from breaking the law and going back to jail, said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

The Million Jobs Campaign aims to provide that training and has teamed up with UConn Health to open the door to entry-level jobs at the public hospital and research center. It has committed to a goal of hiring people who have had contact with the criminal justice system to fill 5% of its entry-level jobs over the next three years.

“Martin Luther King and Malcolm X both agreed that the greatest social program that you could ever create in the community is a job program of creating meaningful opportunities, meaning economic opportunities, for individuals to stay away from criminal activity,” he said.

“If you wanted to be a fireman or be a police officer or be a correctional officer and you have a blemish on your record or you have been arrested — sometimes you don’t even have to go to jail or be convicted,” Esdaile said. “You’ve just been arrested. If it shows up on your record, it can affect you from being hired for jobs.”

That number totals 13,000 to 14,000 people in Greater Hartford alone, Esdaile said. And Hartford has the most people incarcerated of any Connecticut city, at 1,065 per 100,000 population, according to the state Office of Police and Management, so that means a high number of formerly incarcerated people as well.

A 16-year-old who is arrested can have that on his record for the rest of his life, Esdaile said. And while employers can hire ex-convicts, it doesn’t help if they don’t have the skills to do the job.

This is where the Million Jobs Campaign comes in, working with the Capital Workforce Partners, which will provide the training. UConn Health is the third of four Hartford-area medical centers to join the campaign, Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center have also signed on.

St. Francis Hospital will be the next to join, Esdaile said. The campaign began with Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven. He estimated 1,000 to 1,500 jobs at the four Hartford Hospitals. The NAACP has an ultimate goal of 10,000 jobs across the state and 1 million jobs nationwide.

“Once they finish the training, then they come back to the NAACP,” Esdaile said. “And then we set up the interview with the four hospitals. And then the person will take the best offer. So we have a pool of individuals after they finished training that the human resources department from all four hospitals will start setting up interviews for them.”

The campaign will begin ramping up with public service announcements and radio and TV advertising next week, Esdaile said, after the grand opening Oct. 18 of the campaign’s offices in the Gold Building, 755 Main St., Hartford.

Corrie Betts, outreach coordinator for the NAACP, who has been incarcerated himself, said his role “is making sure that I connect the dots, making sure that we give them the services that are available, but once those services that I’m able to connect them to that there’s employment connected to those services.”

He’ll work with UConn Health and other partners “making sure that these employers are seeing these people as being individuals who have definitely put in the work to change in their lives and giving them opportunity,” he said.

Besides job skills, creating a good resume, preparing for interviews are also vital, Betts said. “Setting the person up to go in front of an employer and they’re able to tell their story and tell it effectively and honestly, it creates that opportunity,” he said.

Employers, like the hospitals, need to be open to hiring those who have served their time, Betts said. “I don’t think it should hold them from being able to be employable, being able to be productive members of society. And if we don’t correct that, and we continue to create barriers for them, we just create a recidivism. Where does it stop?”

Lakeesha Brown, vice president of human resources at UConn Health, said the program will help the medical center in hiring people for what is a larger number of openings since the COVID-19 pandemic and the “great resignation.”

“This particular initiative is good for not just the hospital and UConn Health as a whole … but it certainly is good for the state,” she said. With post-incarceration recidivism rates running at 27%, “that has a direct effect on re-offense. People come out of jail, they want to do something with their lives for the most part, and then they can’t get a job. And so it sort of perpetuates that cycle of crime.”

“As a citizen, I’d much rather participate in advocacy for and support for post-incarceration, job readiness and training programs so that people can get a job,” Brown said.

“This isn’t a handout,” she said. “This isn’t a pipeline of just NAACP program graduates into positions. They still have to come in and compete.”

Dr. Bruce Liang, interim CEO of UConn Health, said “there are many benefits to this collaboration. It will help give a fair second chance and strengthen equity and the economic status of formerly incarcerated individuals. Additionally, hiring a formerly incarcerated [person] has the potential to provide an added benefit of millions of dollars in economic impact for the state.”

Statewide, the NAACP estimates that economic impact to total $7.5 million.

Originally published by the Hartford Courant.

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