This built-in impediment to employment for former prisoners has been eased somewhat over the past few years by a movement called Ban the Box. The “box” is the one on employment applications asking about an applicant’s criminal history. However, revelations from a 2011 study found that many prospective employers skirt the banned box by simply barring former prisoners from applying for a job. A full third of able-bodied, unemployed men in their prime have a criminal record; that’s a lot of people potentially frozen out of the job market.
That number of unemployed former prisoners would likely be a lot higher were it not for the inner drive and entrepreneurial spirit of many of them who create employment for themselves and others by starting small businesses.
The Texas prison system actually hosts an in-house intensive study program called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program at its Kyle unit. It teaches “out of the box” thinking and mentors help released prisoners as they begin their own small businesses.
Recently, COVID-19 and the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) have managed to do what the banned-box sidesteppers have not been able to do to these intrepid entrepreneurial former prisoners. They are putting them out of business.
When Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES economic stimulus act, it made no provisions to deny eligibility for Paycheck Protection Plan (“PPP”) small business loans to businesses owned by former prisoners. Nevertheless, the SBA took it upon itself to add a limiting provision that effectively excludes these types of businesses from eligibility for PPP loans.
KB Brown began a promotional advertising business after leaving prison. He worked hard, hired other hard workers, and his business steadily expanded. His business has fallen due to COVID-19. He was prevented from obtaining a PPP loan by the SBA and furloughed his employees. “There’s a chance that Wolfpack Promotionals will never reopen,” he lamented.
Courtney Stewart is a former prisoner who runs his own nonprofit organization. His mission is to counsel, mentor, and help newly released prisoners reentering society. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Stewart has had to lay off two of his employees and reduce hours for the others. In a bitter paradox, Stewart’s National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens is now needed more than ever as more and more jurisdictions are releasing more and more prisoners because of the same COVID-19 pandemic.
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