New York-based Ben & Jerry’s has announced its participation in Unlock Potential, an employment program for young people who are at greatest risk of incarceration. Through it, employers aim to use hiring to advance racial equity, recruit the next generation of corporate leaders and help disrupt the poverty-to-prison pipeline.
“The importance of second-chance employment efforts cannot be overstated. But hiring individuals when they’re released from prison isn’t enough – we have to be taking steps to stop them ending up there in the first place,” said Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s.
“Data show that meaningful employment opportunities are one of the most impactful ways to prevent future incarceration. Unlock Potential will create those first chances.”
Supported by Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity, the Unlock Potential program aims to tackle racial inequality and economic immobility generated by justice-system contact. For example, first-time incarceration can decrease lifetime earnings by more than 30 percent. These obstacles are also disproportionately felt by BIPOC communities.
Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of whites, and studies have shown the effect of a criminal record on employment to be 40 percent more damaging for Black men than white men. By preventing incarceration before it starts, Unlock Potential can mitigate the resulting economic exclusion and help break intergenerational cycles of poverty.
Unlock Potential will also help businesses meet the unprecedented workforce shortage, their growing need to invest in future leadership and their commitments to creating a fairer, equitable society.
“Unlock Potential is a critical component in the advancement of our Racial Equity work,” said Allie Reid, Ben & Jerry’s senior retail racial equity and inclusion manager. “Creating meaningful career opportunities for Black and Brown at-risk youth supports skill development and economic mobility in the communities we serve and exist in.”
Unlock Potential will focus on the 4.4 million Americans identified as “disconnected youth” – people ages 16 to 24 who are neither in education nor employment. These young adults are far more likely than their peers to suffer negative outcomes like poverty and incarceration.
Unlock Potential will focus on a subset who have experienced one or more of the following additional risk factors for incarceration: an incarcerated parent, sex or human trafficking, the juvenile justice system or the foster care system. By opening up economic opportunities for these people, participating employers can help address the root causes of mass incarceration.
Following the design consultation phase expected to wrap up in October, Unlock Potential will launch a 12-month pilot program. Assisted by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, a handful of Ben & Jerry’s franchised scoop shops will be matched with hires to provide careers with real opportunity for advancement. Participants will also be connected with local wraparound support services through national non-profit Persevere to help ensure their success.
To learn more about the program, visit unlock-potential.org.