Ms. Kerr-Donovan discussed the successes that the Johns Hopkins Health System (JHHS) has had in employing ex-offenders, noting that the health system is the second-largest employer in Maryland, attracting 9,000 to 12,000 applicants per month and hiring 1,800 people per year. The health system’s strategic employment forecasting for the next 5 years seeks to hire the right people at the right time with the right skills and at the right pay grade.
“With 9,000 incarcerated people returning to Baltimore each year, the JHHS wanted to contribute to community re-integration efforts by providing employment opportunities,” Ms. Kerr-Donovan said. Not everyone is ready at release to succeed in a healthcare job, Ms. Kerr-Donovan observed, so Hopkins, in 2009, sought a Department of Justice (DOJ) training grant and partnered with a private training firm and community colleges to prepare the re-entry population for appropriate positions at the JHHS. The transition period allows people to develop workplace readiness skills, with wrap-around programs provided to help them sort out child care, housing and other issues.
Ex-offenders are referred to the JHHS program from community-based programs and from the Probation Department. These candidates are then meticulously screened by a former Baltimore policeman and matched to training opportunities for open jobs. The selection process is critical, Ms. Kerr-Donovan commented, “because patient safety is our first priority and candidates are not placed in high-liability situations. Candidates are matched to appropriate jobs — for example, someone with a drug arrest would not be assigned to work where there is access to drugs.”
After a 90-day training internship, candidates are reviewed for permanent jobs. If hired, their background files are kept confidential in the Human Resources Department. “We do not re-criminalize people,” Ms. Kerr-Donovan said. “Therefore, managers are not informed about the candidates’ prison backgrounds, and a coach is assigned to support each candidate’s success.”
The JHHS hired 4,500 people from 2009 to 2012, among them 430 people with a prison background. A study under way since receiving the 2009 DOJ grant will compare a control group — those with no prison experience — with the beyond-prison group to assess where they were hired, their wages, retention, condition of termination, and their current employment and wages.
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT): Are there extraordinary risk management resources required for this population? And does that add additional costs? Is coaching offered by the JHHS for everyone, or does coaching for ex-offenders increase costs?
Ms. Kerr-Donovan: Our conditions for employment and our screening process are very rigorous, so candidates are carefully selected and are not placed in high-liability positions. We coordinate existing resources that are available to everyone. At the JHHS, a decision to hire someone means we will invest in them to make them successful. We do not re-criminalize people. There is no difference in the way employees who have a prison background and those who do not are treated. We keep the knowledge of a positive prison background limited to a small group of people, and as I mentioned, the potential employee’s manager is not informed of the prison record.
Sen. Keith Faber (OH): How do the unions respond to letting ex-offenders in? Do they allow them to participate in union hiring halls and apprenticeship programs?
Ms. Kerr-Donovan: Many of the jobs are in materials management, general services, housekeeping, food services and facilities, all of which are unionized, but we have not had any challenges from the unions. We prepare entry-level people to attend the apprenticeship programs. We keep some jobs open for those without a high school diploma, although they must have an eighth-grade reading level and a sixth-grade mathematics level. We give them training so they can get their GEDs.
Sen. John Alario (LA): Johns Hopkins has an outstanding reputation around the world. Have you engaged other Maryland employers in adopting your model and hiring ex-offenders?
Ms. Kerr-Donovan: Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center is one of 7 healthcare facilities in the Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare. This is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to eliminating the critical shortage of qualified healthcare workers in Baltimore by creating opportunities for residents to pursue careers in the healthcare professions. We look at workforce development globally. When we demonstrated that careful screening could identify those people with a positive background who would become great employees, other hospitals started hiring from this population.
Sen. Brian Bingman (OK): Does Maryland have a state law giving employers immunity from negligent-hiring lawsuits?
Ms. Kerr-Donovan: Maryland does not have that law, although there are expungement opportunities. Our approach has been to work on the “Ban the Box” campaign. We limit our liability by focusing on people with nonviolent offenses, those who committed crimes years ago, and individuals who’ve demonstrated a desire to be contributing members of the community.
Other Criminal & Social Justice System articles.
Department of Human Resources
Strategic Workforce Planning & Development
The Johns Hopkins Health System (JHHS)
The health system received a Department of Justice (DOJ) training grant and partnered with a private training firm and community colleges to prepare the re-entry population for appropriate positions at the JHHS.
“Ex-offenders become great employees. They appreciate the opportunity they’ve been given.”
— Yariela Kerr-Donovan
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser
Sen. Keith Faber
Sen. John Alario
Sen. Brian Bingman
“The more we do to help people earn a living wage and take care of their families, the more stable the community is for everyone.”
— Yariela Kerr-Donovan
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