A Fair Chance At A Second Chance

Dozens of people testified in support of the fair chance motions, including several who had been formerly incarcerated, nonprofit service providers, business representatives, faith leaders, and more. (All photos by Dave Franco/Board of Supervisors.)

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a pair of motions aimed at giving all Los Angeles County residents a fair chance at employment, including those with arrest and conviction records.

The first motion, which lists Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas as author and Supervisor Hilda L. Solis as co-author, calls for establishing fair chance policies for those seeking Los Angeles County government jobs. With more than 100,000 workers, Los Angeles County is the region’s largest employer.

“We simply want to provide a ‘fair chance’ to everyone who aspires to become good citizens,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “The intent is to expand opportunities to our underserved and vulnerable constituents while creating safer neighborhoods.”

He added, “This isn’t simply a matter of altruism – it’s fundamentally a matter of self-interest.” He noted when the formerly incarcerated cannot get jobs that help them become self-sufficient, they are more likely to return to a life of crime or to rely on taxpayer-funded social services.

A beneficiary of Homeboy Industries testifies in favor of the fair chance motions.

His motion also sought to expand the fair chance ordinance to veterans, former foster youth, people with disabilities, the homeless, and other populations that often face barriers to employment. The Board called for a report back in 90 days.

The second motion approved by the Board would apply fair chance policies to businesses that contract with the County or operate in unincorporated areas. It was authored by Supervisor Solis and co-authored by Board Chair Ridley-Thomas.

“The best way to protect public safety is to help people who want to turn their lives around find a job,” Supervisor Solis said. “Today’s motion will launch an inclusive stakeholder process to make LA County a leader in giving vulnerable populations a fair chance at getting back on their feet. We hope that other municipalities will follow and adopt similar policies to help these men and women have a second chance.”

In California, one in four adults has an arrest or conviction record that can diminish their chances of getting a job or a place to live even after they have paid their debt to society.

LA County Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald and Judge Peter Espinoza, executive director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry, testify in favor of the fair chance motions.

LA County’s Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald disputed the notion that fair chance policies are “soft on crime,” describing it instead as “smart on crime.” She told the Board, “The people coming out of prisons, Division of Juvenile Justice facilities, juvenile camps and halls, and jails, to show up to interview for a job are not engaged in criminal behavior – they’re asking for an opportunity. A lack of opportunity is actually a public safety problem because when people can’t get a job, or housing, or live in healthy communities, they engage in behavior that puts the public at risk.”

Gonzalo Alvarado entered the justice system as a juvenile, educated himself behind bars, and became a mentor and translator for other inmates. However, he has struggled to find a job since his release from prison. He told the Board, “I humbly ask just for an opportunity to have my American dream, to have a place in this society that I love so much.”

The fair chance motions would not give anyone preferential treatment nor call for hiring an unqualified person with an arrest or conviction record. Instead, the proposed policies are intended to eliminate discriminatory obstacles for competent candidates, with the goal of boosting the economy, promoting public safety, and reducing dependence on public benefits.

Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas hears testimony on fair chance motions.