BY ALEXIA ELEJALDE-RUIZ
JPMorgan Chase & Co. is piloting an initiative in Chicago to hire people with criminal backgrounds and is throwing its weight behind public policy proposals aimed at giving ex-offenders a second chance.
The nation’s largest bank by deposits has partnered with several Chicago nonprofits to mentor, train and recruit applicants who might otherwise not have considered banking because they thought their criminal records would preclude them from working at financial institutions.
Since launching the pilot a month ago, Chase said it has made nine offers for positions such as associate bankers, personal bankers and remittance processors. The recruits tended to have records for drug possession or driving under the influence.
The Chicago effort, which could be expanded to other cities, is part of a push by the bank to address high unemployment among people with criminal records, which studies have shown can worsen recidivism and trap people in poverty.
Companies in other industries, such as health care, also have opened their doors wider to hire the formerly incarcerated, who face unemployment rates of 27%.
Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said business has to step up to extend economic opportunities to more people.
“If your community doesn’t do well, no one is going to do well,” Dimon said. “Government can’t do this by itself.”
Banned the box
The initiative comes 18 months after the bank instituted a companywide ban-the-box policy, which means it doesn’t ask job applicants about criminal records and only runs a background check after a conditional offer has been made. (Illinois has had a law mandating such a policy on the books since 2014.)
Partly as a result of that change, last year the company hired about 2,100 people with criminal backgrounds, or 10% of new hires. But the pilot in Chicago, chosen in part because the bank does a lot of hiring here, marks its first deliberate effort to recruit from that population.
“For us it’s already changed things because we know they are not just open, but proactively wanting to hire this population,” said Marie Trzupek Lynch, president and CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, one of the nonprofit partners.
“It has brought hiring managers to the table because they know now from the top that this is a priority for the company.”
Federal rules prohibit banks from hiring people with certain convictions, but they were loosened modestly last year after Chase and others lobbied for changes.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which requires banks to get approval to employ anyone whose crimes involved “dishonesty, breach of trust or money laundering,” now exempts more people from the restrictions.
Chase has set up a PolicyCenter unit to advocate for other policy changes and educate companies on what they can do to be a part of the effort.
Among its policy priorities are automatic record-clearing for certain misdemeanors or crimes committed as a juvenile, and reforming laws that suspend people’s drivers licenses for failure to pay fines.
The company supports a bipartisan bill in Congress that would allow people in prison to access federal Pell grants to pay for higher education, including college classes and workforce training.
Chase also announced it is investing $7 million to support career development, financial health and entrepreneurship for people with criminal backgrounds in Chicago; Detroit; Nashville, Tenn.; Seattle; New York; and Delaware.
About $3.4 million of it will go to groups in Chicago working on the issue, including the Heartland Alliance, North Lawndale Employment Network, Cara and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. The money is part of the $40 million commitment the company made two years ago to improve economic conditions on Chicago’s South and West sides.
More than 27,000 people left Illinois prisons last year, and more than 50,000 people were released from Cook County Jail, many of them returning to neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
The National Employment Law Project has estimated that Illinoisans with criminal records or arrest histories — which includes those not charged or convicted — account for 42% of the state’s population.
For its personal recruitment efforts, Chase has instituted a new assessment process.
Applicants are assessed first by a global security group to ensure they don’t pose a safety risk and aren’t prohibited by law from being hired, and then are evaluated by a team that includes leaders from human resources, employee engagement and the line of business where they would work, said Gershom Smith, assistant general counsel in Chase’s human resources department.
Each case is different, and among the criteria considered is how long ago they got the record, how old they were at the time, the seriousness of the offense and whether the crime relates to the job they’re being hired for, he said.
Candidates are still held to the company’s high standards.
“We believe this is an underserved group, and that hiring them benefits the community, reduces recidivism,” Smith said. “All we have to do is give people a shot.”