June 11, 2019


Piper Kerman, Coss Marte, and other contributing authors explore the businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits connecting inmates and ex-offenders with jobs.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation today launched a new project exploring employer-led programs that give inmates and ex-offenders training and support as they re-enter the workforce. The America Working Forward issue, “Hidden Workforce: Why Businesses are Welcoming Employees with Criminal Records,” takes an in-depth look at some of the businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits who are building pathways to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.

“For the first time, there are more open jobs than people without jobs, and employers are increasingly recognizing that the growing population of Americans with criminal records could help fill this gap,” said Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “We spent a year getting to know employers, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, corrections officials, and inmates who are creating innovative approaches to re-entry in communities across the country so that businesses can have meaningful conversations about how to become a second chance employer.”

America Working Forward features original reporting for the print magazine, a new multimedia website, and a live event featuring interviews and TED-style talks. Stories include:

Piper Kerman Essay

Piper Kerman, whose memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison was adapted into a critically acclaimed Netflix series, shares her perspective on second-chance employment.

Kerman notes: “It’s important to recognize companies and organizations giving people the second chance they have earned. The good news is that there are more and more people doing it right.”

Solving Arizona’s Skills Gap

In central Arizona, the Second Chance program has placed over 1,200 inmates in construction jobs with companies dealing with a shortage of labor in this booming industry. As part of the program, home builders mock up a construction site inside prison to train short-timers for high-demand jobs in one of the U.S.’s hottest real estate markets.


The publication includes a photo essay of Uplift Workforce Solutions, an employer-driven re-entry workforce program that provides on the job training designed to create second chance employment opportunities for re-entering citizens.

Purpose-driven Restaurants

As the restaurant business struggles with finding and retaining good employees, the magazine explores how high-end restaurants, like EDWINS in Cleveland and Café Momentum in Dallas, train those with a criminal background and at-risk juveniles for careers in the food industry.

Vocational Village

Across Michigan, 400 businesses are hoping to hire graduates of the Vocational Village program, where 66 percent have jobs waiting for them before parole. The first-of-its-kind training program is a result of a partnership between Michigan and businesses to give prisoners marketable skills in high-demand fields like robotics and automotive technology.

Sweat Equity

Coss Marte, founder of fitness company ConBody, shares how he went from the streets of New York City to felon to entrepreneur with a gym inside of Saks Fifth Avenue and a team of employees with criminal records of their own. Marte’s stated mission is “to change the way society sees formerly incarcerated individuals.”

The Last Mile

The Last Mile program trains software developers in 13 prisons in California and three other states, with plans to be in 17 facilities in six states by year-end. To date, it boasts a zero percent recidivism rate among graduates of their entrepreneurship and coding curricula.

Women Welders

The publication shares a photo essay of female offenders who are being trained for careers in metalworking and welding. This program from the Indiana Department of Correction and Ivy Tech Community College trains women at the Madison Correctional Facility with the goal of aligning their skills with gainful employment upon release.

Applying Gallup’s Assessment Tool in Prisons

Gallup has created tools to show how recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior can be productively applied, and W. Todd Johnson explains how they are applying these novel tools to help incarcerated men and women find innate potential within themselves.

The Next Step for Criminal Justice Reform – Jobs

Society for Human Resources Management president and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. shares resources and best practices for businesses considering criminal records in hiring decisions.

Taylor discusses the need for balance: “It’s good business to hire the formerly incarcerated, but CEOs may worry about pushback from their human resources team, which must be rigorous about safety and compliance.”

Q&A with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

David Rattray, executive vice president of the Center for Education Excellence and Talent Development, explains why employing formerly incarcerated adults is good for business, what gets in the way of hiring, and how companies should adapt.

This issue of America Working Forward was produced in partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Koch Industries. The magazine is available online now. View the featured stories, photo essays, and videos at Watch the live event here.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness. We educate the public on the conditions necessary for business and communities to thrive, how business positively impacts communities, and emerging issues and creative solutions that will shape the future.