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Expanding Oklahoma’s diversion programs buoys workforce

A 2023 review of Oklahoma County’s justice system by the Criminal Justice Institute found that between 2015 and 2022, the county jail population decreased by 44%. The report found that one driver of the population decline was our justice system’s increased access to and use of diversion programs during that time.

Thanks to these diversion programs, thousands of those who are justice-involved have been diverted away from the jail and into community programs, having a significant effect on the lives of individuals while also lowering Oklahoma County’s jail population.

Diversion programs help nonviolent, low-level offenders through treatment, to gain skills and provide them with the support and resources needed to get them back to work. Businesses that implement fair-chance hiring practices are in the best position to reap the benefits of these dedicated employees.

I regularly hear from hiring managers and executives that their partnerships with Oklahoma County’s diversion programs have made continuing their fair-chance hiring policies a no-brainer. Diversion programs such as TEEM, ReMerge, Diversion Hub and Treatment Court programs work with hiring managers across central Oklahoma to provide businesses with a slate of qualified candidates who are eager to reenter their communities, rehabilitated and ready to provide for their families by reentering the workforce.

Individuals who complete diversion programs receive workforce preparation for a variety of industries here in Oklahoma. Our county programs regularly place employees in industries such as retail, transportation and administrative/office jobs. Hospitality, retail, customer service and manufacturing are all industries seeing significant commitment to fair-chance practices on a national level.

As of March 2023, only 1.53% of job listings on LinkedIn and Indeed were publicized as fair-chance opportunities.

Businesses in central Oklahoma are in an enviable position to grow their partnerships with a diversion program in Oklahoma County and increase their pipeline of talented applicants to end hiring shortages. Businesses that welcome flexible hiring practices see better outcomes, and communities that commit to rehabilitate and reintegrate become a better place to live for all residents. Fair-chance hiring makes our community safer as people successfully reenter society and break addictive cycles.

Fair-chance hiring is good for employers. Justice-involved individuals have lower turnover rates, lower absenteeism and higher retention rates compared to other members of the workforce. Businesses that are willing to adopt fair-chance hiring practices can reap these benefits and more.

This piece first appeared in the Journal Record


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