Harris, Lewis gather support for bipartisan second chance employment act

HARRISBURG, Oct. 23 – State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., House Democratic whip, and Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, are gathering support for legislation that aims to create a state database of job postings by employers who are willing to hire formerly incarcerated and convicted people.

“A major part of criminal justice reform is helping formally incarcerated and convicted people find and maintain employment, which is simply smart economics for Pennsylvania,” Harris said. “It reduces the recidivism rate, which correlates to savings in our state budget. It increases payroll taxes, which contributes to our General Fund. And most importantly, it helps lift individuals and their families out of poverty and lead a stable life. I believe this can be a watershed moment where employers see other employers on the right side of history and move to join them.” 

“We are calling this the Second Chance Act, because it is meant to be just that – a second chance,” Lewis said. “These men and women have made mistakes in the past and now want nothing more than a job in order to put food on the table and a roof over their head. These individuals are typically grateful that someone is willing to give them a job and will be productive, hard-working employees. We need to stop judging people on their past and, instead, give them an opportunity to show us who they are today.”

Data from the Prison Policy Initiative shows that the unemployment rate in 2008, the latest year data is available, among formerly incarcerated and convicted people is higher than the unemployment rate for the general population during the height of the Great Depression in 1933. This study also showed that the unemployment rate of African American men and women who were formerly incarcerated is nearly double the unemployment rate of white men and women who were formerly incarcerated.

“This legislation is another step Pennsylvania must take in helping formally incarcerated and convicted people move forward with leading fulfilling, rewarding lives, and I’m incredibly appreciative to Representative Lewis for working with me on this,” Harris said. “The statistics are clear. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated and convicted people is five times higher than the general unemployment rate across the country. This isn’t because they don’t want to work, it’s because there are systematic barriers that must be disabled to end the cycle of poverty and help lift these individuals up.”