I live in a middle-class neighborhood in Cedar Rapids — or maybe I should say a middle class “block” since two blocks up the street there are several “low income” apartment complexes in the neighborhood. As I thought about justice in America and this column, a real-world story that happened in my family came to mind — a story that will demonstrate why justice reform must happen in the courtrooms as well as the c-suites.
Six years ago, my daughter’s new car was hit by a drunken driver while parked in our driveway. The car was hit so hard that it was thrown into our garage where it destroyed the garage door and the rear end of both cars parked inside. The police took a bumper with a serial number as evidence and promised they would investigate.
Here is where the story relates to justice reform:
Nearly everyone who heard about the accident and knew where I lived — even some people who live in my neighborhood — would say, “It was probably someone in those apartments, there is always trouble up there.”
Well lo and behold — the police investigation led them not to the low income apartments where all the assumptions were made. Rather, it led them to a wealthy family who lived about six blocks from my house, whose home is worth well over $400,000, is surrounded by a white picket fence, and has curb appeal that would hold its own on a Parade of Homes tour.
My point, you ask?
It is that negative assumptions made about certain groups of people create a false fear and an unwillingness to engage with them, which leads to decisions that can be devastating long-term.
Assumptions like those made about the character of people in those apartments near me happen every day in companies with hiring managers who make assumptions that all applicants who have a checkered past are high risk for problems because they were in prison before. So re-entry candidates are not hired, doors continue to be closed in their faces, and the constant pain of rejection leads many of them right back to the environment that led them to prison. They are at high risk to be arrested again, and the cycle continues.
What if leaders took the time to understand a re-entry candidate’s history and what they have done to change their lives? What if that candidate has the exact skills that you need, received degrees or certificates while incarcerated, and was a model inmate who mentored other inmates, yet you did not know this because you could not get past their robbery conviction from 10 years ago?
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Can you imagine the untapped talent that lies in our backyard if more companies for one moment would to stop and think, “How did this candidate get to this point? What if that was me?”
I ask corporate leaders:
What if you were forever banned from living a productive life due to a mistake you made in the past that you paid for?
Would you still call it justice?
• Anthony Arrington is a managing partner at Top RANK, a professional and executive search firm in Cedar Rapids, with a special emphasis on helping companies who have a desire to expand the diversity, inclusion, and engagement of their workforce.