ARPA Insight Stories: Justice-Impacted Workforce Development - Greater Baltimore Urban League
Thursday Oct 26th, 2023
Justice-impacted job seekers faced unique challenges and disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Barriers to employment for justice-impacted individuals existed before the pandemic but were exacerbated in a post-pandemic job market. For example, many reentry programs had to limit or provide their services remotely, making services inaccessible for those who lacked computer or internet access. In addition, after struggling to find employment post-release, justice-impacted individuals may, when employed, face low earnings, which correlates with an increased likelihood of reincarceration. These employment-related outcomes also demonstrate racial disparities in impact: the effect of a criminal record is forty percent larger for Black applicants than White applicants.i These issues, including the widespread use of background checks that may dissuade employers from hiring applicants based on their criminal history, the high costs to expunge eligible criminal records, and lengthy supervision sentences—some with harsh restrictions—hinder justice-impacted individuals’ ability to find employment, hampering successful reentry.
ARPA Funding | Confronting and Eliminating Barriers to Justice-Impacted Job Seekers
In August 2022, Mayor Brandon Scott awarded $1 million in ARPA funding to the Greater Baltimore Urban League (GBUL) through the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs for a workforce development program that provides counseling, case management, skills training, and certifications for Baltimore residents returning from incarceration. The GBUL’s Justice Impacted Employment Program (JIEP) aims to prepare low-income residents and returning citizens for jobs with solid wages and career advancement opportunities, enabling them to participate in their community’s economic development and wealth. ARPA funds support training in cybersecurity, an in-demand field within the information technology industry. ARPA funding, through GBUL has also supported additional Baltimore City residents develop and secure careers in the healthcare field, culinary arts, and construction field.
With initial support from Comcast Universal, the GBUL program commenced in March 2022. So far, GBUL has awarded 93 high-level cybersecurity certifications to 62 residents, including Security +, Certified Ethical Hacking, Certified Network Defender, Cloud Plus, and Professional Scrum Master certifications.
Meet Tiffany Majors | GBUL President and Chief Executive Officer
As the GBUL president and CEO for five years, Tiffany Majors has been working to establish workforce development programs like the Urban Tech Cybersecurity Jobs Program to create viable pathways for Baltimoreans—unemployed and disconnected from the workforce—to work in the technology sector.
“Programs like this need to exist because there is a perception that those with a criminal background or impacted by the justice system will not qualify for IT or cybersecurity positions, are not capable of completing and succeeding with such high-level cyber security certifications and are not employable. Our data and impact show a significant dissimilarity in this hypothesis. In addition, many ‘returning’ citizen’s programs are often entry-level warehouse, food service, clerk, and housekeeping positions, often placing this population back in the poverty bracket with the inability to sufficiently sustain themselves or their families,” said Majors.
While the program was initially funded with $250,000 from Comcast Universal, Ms. Majors notes that the additional funding from ARPA provided program participants with access to multiple in-demand certifications, retesting if unsuccessful with initial certification testing, transportation for other construction training or in-person labs, housing assistance due to unemployment while training, as well as resume development, interview preparation, and professional suits for success.
Meet Datwone Gibson | Graduate of Urban Tech Cybersecurity Jobs Program
Gibson was a student at Civitas Middle/High School in West Baltimore. He admits that he constantly caused trouble, which led to contact with the juvenile justice system. He had to forgo college once he ran into financial troubles. “It’s a blessing to have this situation,” Gibson said. At 21, he landed a job in tech support as a service desk analyst for Baltimore City Schools after finishing a free training program offered by the Greater Baltimore Urban League. Now 22, Gibson is a tech operation specialist at T. Rowe Price, a global investment company. However, he is not done with his education; he is still working on additional certifications in his new field. “My passion for IT grows every day. Right now, I’m learning how to code and am enrolled in a class at Harvard; I’m hungry to succeed,” Gibson said. “I get job offers from Florida, Tennessee, Kansas, and DC; they have even offered to pay for relocation. Where do I see myself in the next five years? Flourishing.”
Meet Dillon Silva | Graduate of the Urban Tech Cybersecurity Jobs Program
“Being new to Baltimore and also in recovery, GBUL has helped me not only navigate but get me into the Byte Back program [Byte Back is an organization whose mission is to provide under-resourced communities an equitable pathway into the digital economy through digital advocacy, digital literacy, and tech certification training] to pursue one of my goals for the past few years: to get into the tech field. They’ve even helped me with transportation to get to the program. Without the GBUL program, I wouldn’t have achieved as much as I have now. I would recommend the GBUL program to anyone who wants to network, get constant offers on opportunities, and help overall.”
Meet Tyrae Barnhart | Graduate of the Urban Tech Cybersecurity Jobs Program
“I can’t express how helpful GBUL has been in this process; How patient they have been, just constantly taking time with us and giving us constant opportunities to succeed. The stipends were very helpful. I’m the sole provider for my family, and the stipends helped me continue the program while providing me with less stress. The instructors were great. They gave us plenty of material to study. I couldn’t be happier. I did this for my kids, and I don’t know how much more I can thank these people for helping me gain a career that’s going to change my life.”
Tyrae passed three certifications, and he is working toward a fourth. Since graduating, the program has become a family affair. Tyrae said that his sister, father, aunt, and some of his cousins have signed up to participate in the program.
Meet Tyron Smith | Graduate of the Urban Tech Cybersecurity Jobs Program
“I grew up believing that I was limited. I struggled with finding myself and finding a challenge that would push me toward success. GBUL allowed me to work with people who are just as passionate about success as I am. Giving me access to an organization and a family that wants to see their community achieve success and provide support and resources to find greatness. Words cannot express the gratitude I have towards GBUL.”
Continuing the Work | Changing Laws and Supporting Meaningful Programming
An estimated 2,000 Baltimoreans return from prison each year.ii According to a published 2022 Justice Policy Institute article, Baltimoreans are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration – representing 40 percent of the state’s prison population despite being home to just 9 percent of Maryland’s population. Furthermore, Baltimore City has the highest incarceration rate, with 1 in every 100 residents in a state prison. In addition, previous analysis from the Prison Policy Initiative and Justice Policy Institute stated: “a strong correlation between high rates of incarceration in Maryland and high unemployment rates, long commute times, low household incomes, decreased life expectancy, and other markers of low community well-being.”
These statistics encouraged Mayor Brandon Scott and city leaders to approve legislation for Baltimore’s first-ever Reentry Action Council (RAC) and institutionalize the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement’s (MONSE) current reentry work to improve the City’s capacity to serve individuals returning from incarceration.
“Historically, the criminal justice system has failed our residents,” Mayor Scott said. “We have an opportunity to break the vicious cycle of poverty, crime, and mass incarceration by ensuring our incarcerated residents have the services and supports they need to successfully re-enter society.”iii
By advocating for policy changes and providing ARPA funding, Baltimore City leaders continue to work to bring awareness around the importance for policymakers, employers, and support organizations to consider the unique needs of justice-impacted job seekers and provide targeted resources and assistance to help them overcome these obstacles and successfully reintegrate into the workforce. Through the hard work of policy changes, workforce development programs, and employer initiatives to reduce discrimination and stigma associated with criminal records, we could provide an alternate way for returning citizens to provide for their families while reducing recidivism rates.