‘Normalizing opportunity’ means that all people—despite their involvement in the carceral and legal systems—have access to an array of opportunities and support structures that drive upward mobility just like any other American.

New Framework Offers Policy Recommendations to Increase Economic Mobility for 70 Million People with Criminal Records

Published apr. 24, 2023

Jobs for the Future’s Center for Justice and Economic Advancement offers actionable steps federal and state policymakers can take to ensure people with criminal records can secure quality jobs

BOSTON (April 25, 2023) — Jobs for the Future, the national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems, today, announced its new policy framework designed to help the 70 million people in America with criminal records secure quality jobs. “Normalizing Opportunity: A Policy Agenda to Promote Economic Advancement for People With Criminal Records” details actions that federal, state, and local leaders can take to overhaul the complex web of rules and regulations that penalize people with records and exclude them from pursuing jobs they are qualified for or can learn to do.

As economists expect the labor force to continue to shrink over the next decade, recent federal investments could create as many as 10 million new private-sector jobs in the coming ten years. At the same time, many of the 70 million people who have criminal records face difficulty in finding well-paying jobs that enable professional advancement. This gap between labor market supply and demand presents a tremendous opportunity for policymakers looking to address both macroeconomic challenges and economic mobility for individuals and their communities.

“‘Normalizing opportunity’ means that all people—despite their involvement in the carceral and legal systems—have access to an array of opportunities and support structures that drive upward mobility just like any other American,” said Lucretia Murphy, a vice president at JFF and director of the Center for Justice and Economic Advancement. “This requires breaking down the structural and systemic barriers to opportunity that can permanently penalize people with records, while at the same time creating the enabling conditions for them to not just strive but thrive in today’s economy and in the jobs of the future. This is possible only if all stakeholders across education, employment, policy, and carceral and legal systems shift their mindsets, expectations, and actions.”

Designed as a roadmap for efforts to normalize opportunity for people with records, the new framework identifies policy solutions across the U.S. education, workforce, financial, and housing systems, as well as the legal, judicial, and correctional systems. The framework centers around four key areas:

  1. Education, Skills Training, and Career Navigation: Policy solutions that support people’s ability to acquire credentials, skills, and experiences that have value in the local labor market, and ensure that they have access to professional networks and career coaching that help them identify and navigate their desired career pathways.
  2. Employment and Wealth Building: Policy solutions that 1) expand access to capital that supports entrepreneurial opportunities and 2) encourage employers to adopt more inclusive and equitable hiring and talent development practices.
  3. Mobility Supports: Policy solutions designed to ensure that everyone has access to the foundational supports they need to focus on building skills, sustaining employment, and advancing economically.
  4. Essential Infrastructure: Policy solutions that enhance the assets, networks, and structures needed to foster collective action for helping individuals and communities overcome individual, institutional, and structural barriers and advance economically.

“Policymakers across the country share a common goal of building resilient communities where economic opportunity is possible for everyone,” said Karishma Merchant, JFF’s associate vice president of policy and advocacy. “For those who have experienced the discrimination and stigma that comes with a criminal record, these efforts take on even greater urgency. JFF created the ‘Normalize Opportunity’ framework with the goal of setting an actionable policy agenda for policymakers, practitioners, and leaders with lived expertise to drive the systemic changes needed for sustainable economic advancement for people with records.”

The Center for Justice & Economic Advancement leads JFF’s efforts to eliminate barriers to economic mobility for people with criminal records and create opportunities that give them a fair chance to pursue careers that match their talents, skills, and aspirations. This framework will be followed by a series of resources for policymakers and advocates which will be released in the coming months. As part of their Normalize Opportunity campaign, the Center for Justice & Economic Advancement is also launching a national advocacy campaign in June. The campaign, curated in partnership with Amplifier, will feature artwork by Brandon “BMike” Odum and poetry by acclaimed writer, Jazmine Williams, and celebrate the work of icons Susan Burton and John Gargano, who have showcased the limitless possibilities of people impacted by the legal system when we remove barriers and open opportunity.

For more information on their agenda and their “Normalize Opportunity” campaign, visit cjea.jff.org.

About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all. www.jff.org