By Willie Lockett, Oakland Resident
In my younger days, I made some mistakes and served 22 years in California Penal Institutions. Since my release, I’ve worked really hard to overcome many obstacles, including one of the biggest challenges: finding stable, good paying employment. It took some time, but eventually I got a job with a company that does not discriminate against formerly incarcerated people, and now I am a pro-active, tax-paying member of the community.
Many employers discriminate against formerly incarcerated people in the hiring process by asking about our criminal record on the job application, before even giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves and our qualifications. Many of us don’t even get a call back or an interview.
This barrier leaves many people with few choices other than to return to the street economy.
The Port of Oakland has the opportunity to end this kind of discrimination by including a strong “Ban the Box” policy with no loopholes on its Army Base Redevelopment Project.
By doing so, the Port would ensure both equal protection and rehabilitative opportunities towards meaningful employment for people like me.
When I was released from prison, I attended Laney College, passed my courses with all As and learned the telecommunications field.
After receiving support from several workforce programs and case managers, I got a job as a Field Technician with AT&T. Even though I was completely qualified and honest with them about my past, AT&T terminated me for being on parole.
This was very disheartening and a waste of time, effort and resources for the workforce programs and college professors that had supported me.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, recidivism rates are between 45 to 61 percent, depending on various factors.
Studies show that steady employment with livable wages is one of the most important factors in reducing those rates. Good jobs decrease the need for taxpayer-funded public safety and correctional costs, increase our tax contributions and boost sales taxes.
The new jobs on the Army Base project should give the same opportunity to Oakland residents who have served time.
It is a huge piece of publicly-owned land that uses public funds. Significant progress has been made on a jobs agreement that will serve the public good, including living wages and local hire.
However, the Port and the developer have yet to commit to ending all employment discrimination against the formerly incarcerated.
Given that 49 percent of the people on probation in Alameda County live in the Port’s Local Impact Area, many applicants would experience discrimination and the local hire efforts could be undermined.
The Port has the power to change Oakland and transform lives by ending employment discrimination against formerly incarcerated people through a strong a “Ban the Box” policy.
My story shows that if given an honest, unbiased opportunity for employment, formerly incarcerated people can and will succeed.
This not only betters our own lives, but also the lives of our families, friends, communities and the success of the companies we work for.