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The Path to a Fresh Start Begins with Work—and More Companies are Starting to Realize It

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Should your life be defined by a past mistake? For millions of Americans with nonviolent, nonsexual criminal records, their lives are stunted or on hold even years after they served time due to barriers to work. 

More than 600,000 people leave prison each year, and more than 60 percent of these individuals remain unemployed a year after rejoining society. Why? In many cases, there are barriers to employment. Work is redeeming, plays a significant role in preventing dependency, and is a strong indicator of how likely someone is to re-offend. Research has shown that once a nonviolent offender is crime-free for three to four years, they are no more likely to commit a crime than the average person. 

Providing someone the opportunity to get their foot in the door and climb the economic ladder is the foundation of our country. And, it’s an opportunity that needs to be extended to more people, which is why JP Morgan’s announcement that it’s opening its hiring pool to more people with criminal records is welcome news. 

While this move is likely to raise a few eyebrows, giving a greater number of people the opportunity to earn a living—and a second chance—should be applauded. 

We need to make it easier for people who are trying to move on from troubled pasts to find work and engage in their communities. Let’s be real about the people we’re talking about—not violent offenders. We’re talking about people like Amanda, a young mother in Kentucky who sought to improve her life—and her children’s lives— following a battle with addiction that ended with a criminal record. Her efforts were met with licensing roadblocks preventing her from fulfilling her efforts to become a massage therapist which thankfully have now been lifted. Amanda and her family are thriving thanks to the power of work. By opening the door to nonviolent ex-offenders, businesses can expand their workforce and their productivity while also making strides in reducing how much our nation spends on recidivism and welfare. 

Hiring ex-offenders who have already paid their debt to society is nothing new for JP Morgan. It’s worth noting that this week’s announcement comes after America’s largest bank has hired people with criminal records for entry-level positions. In fact, 10 percent of JP Morgan’s workforce already comes from this pool. This decision helps JP Morgan tap into a new segment of the workforce, and it’s going to give thousands, if not more, the opportunity to contribute to a growing economy. 

There’s a way to balance public safety and opportunity, and JP Morgan is highlighting a great example of just how to do that. It’s also part of a positive trend of businesses, Congress, states, and the administration working to help people have fresh starts. Whether it’s job training or licensing reform, policymakers, Fortune 500 CEOs, and small business owners alike all recognize the potential that comes with hiring the millions of people currently kept from a booming economy that is desperate for workers. 

Everyone makes mistakes, but if we truly believe in prison as a rehabilitative experience, we cannot continue to punish people after they’ve served their time. When people sit on the sidelines, whether because they’re trapped in dependency or because they have a nonviolent criminal history, we all miss out. 

As a nation, we preach the value of work and the dignity of jobs. JP Morgan is putting its money where its mouth is—and more companies should do the same. 

Whitney Munro is the vice president of communications at the Foundation for Government Accountability. 

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