Last week, Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes challenged corporate leaders to hire from among the thousands of people who have been released from prison but locked out of the workforce. He made his pitch with one of Dallas’ most prominent CEOs by his side: Randall Stephenson, who sits at the helm of telecommunications giant AT&T.
“If a guy gets out of prison and he can’t get a place to stay because every application locks him out of a rental, much less ownership, he can’t get a loan and he can’t get a job, where else can he go except back to prison?” Jakes said.
In the spirit of promoting this, AT&T has now hired about a dozen employees who were formerly incarcerated. They have been appointed to work at a Richardson Call Center as part of a pilot program. Stephenson said the company now plans to expand the program to other cities as well. This hiring initiative is part of an AT&T campaign to reduce homelessness in Dallas, especially among veterans and families, by trying to address root causes like unemployment.
“If we truly are going to be a society who wants to ensure that we don’t just have this revolving door to our prison system, then you’ve got to step up,” he said. “You’ve got to be part of the solution.”
Jakes and Stephenson sought to persuade a 900-person audience from North Texas businesses, government agencies and nonprofits to consider hiring formerly incarcerated people, too.
“They (the new employees) have a starting salary of $29,000 a year with health benefits, a 401K match and paid vacation,” said Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer. This salary translates to roughly about $14 an hour.
“AT&T doesn’t “draw a hard and fast line” about criminal backgrounds, but screens candidates to make sure they’re not a safety risk,” Anthony said. “For example, a person with a background of financial crimes would not get a job that gives them access to credit card information,” he added.
“During the pilot program, AT&T has helped employees overcome barriers, such as adjusting to corporate culture and finding transportation or childcare. It’s talent,” he said. “Just because a person has spent some time incarcerated doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. And at AT&T, we are always looking for talent.”