Slack and the Aspen Institute today announced Rework Reentry, a new joint initiative to help formerly incarcerated individuals build careers in the technology sector. The effort aims to bring Next Chapter – an engineering apprenticeship programme founded by Slack for returning citizens – to additional companies across the United States.
This innovative collaboration between Slack for Good, Aspen Digital and the Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative addresses the systemic barriers that prevent returning citizens from securing skilled, high-paying jobs in the tech sector and promotes widespread adoption of proven employment models such as Next Chapter. Through comprehensive research, direct engagement with key stakeholders and documentary storytelling, Rework Reentry aims to expand career opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals while driving broader cultural change.
Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, said, ‘Society places significant barriers in front of formerly incarcerated individuals, especially when it comes to securing stable, gainful employment. It’s exciting that Next Chapter and Slack for Good have pioneered a new approach to addressing this critical issue, starting in the tech sector, and the Aspen Institute is honoured to collaborate on this initiative.’
Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, said, ‘This initiative builds on our long history of advocating for justice-impacted individuals and advancing diversity, equity and belonging within the tech sector. We’re honoured to collaborate with the Aspen Institute to deepen our work in this area and help scale the blueprint we’ve developed to additional hiring partner companies.’
Today’s launch of Rework Reentry coincides with the announcement that Next Chapter has expanded to 14 hiring partners, with the addition of PayPal, Asana and Stash. Today, Slack also announced a new documentary short film series called Home/Free, produced by Slack for Good in partnership with Next Chapter, FREEAMERICA and the Equal Justice Initiative.
Next Chapter provides returning citizens with access to skilled, high-paying jobs in tech
Almost two million people are incarcerated in the United States today, 95% of whom will one day be released. All told, an estimated 19 million Americans are burdened with the collateral consequences of a felony conviction. Due to stark racial inequities in the US criminal justice system, this burden disproportionately falls on people of colour.
Upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals are often limited to low-paying jobs with little opportunity for long-term career advancement. Research shows that a lack of stable employment drastically increases the likelihood that an individual will return to prison, making joblessness a leading predictor of recidivism. This vicious cycle of release and poverty hurts everyone, including individuals re-entering society, their families and communities, employers and taxpayers.
Next Chapter was established in 2018 by Slack and its non-profit partners The Last Mile, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and FREEAMERICA to help break this cycle by creating pathways for formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain skilled, high-paying jobs in the tech sector. Individuals who are selected to participate in the eight-month programme enrol in a paid software engineering immersion programme and complete an apprenticeship at one of Next Chapter’s hiring partners. Central to Next Chapter’s model is the comprehensive support provided to both apprentices and hiring partners in collaboration with the program’s network of non-profit partners. Apprentices receive professional and technical mentorship and individualised re-entry services, while hiring partners are counselled on how to create a more equitable, supportive workplace for those returning home from incarceration.
After an initial pilot at Slack, Next Chapter has since expanded to 14 hiring partners. Three cohorts of apprentices, more than 30 individuals in total, have successfully graduated from the programme. Every apprentice has received a full-time employment offer after completing their apprenticeship, allowing them to quickly climb onto the career ladder at some of the nation’s fastest-growing tech companies. With this success, Next Chapter – which is now a fiscally sponsored project of Tides Center – is poised to grow to additional companies across the United States.
Deepti Rohatgi, executive director of Slack for Good, said, ‘Our programme is transformative not just for apprentices, but also for participating companies, which gain talented, loyal engineers and demonstrate through their investment in this programme that they are serious about putting their values of equity and inclusion into action.’
Kenyatta Leal, executive director of Next Chapter, added, ‘We’ve built a blueprint that works. The question now is: how can we scale this model so that more people who have served their time and proven they have what it takes to turn their lives around can get a real shot at the American dream?’
Rework Reentry builds on Next Chapter’s success to expand career opportunities for returning citizens
Challenges remain in scaling Next Chapter across the tech sector, including legal and HR hurdles within companies, challenges in reaching and raising awareness among justice-impacted people about career opportunities in tech and resistance among some employees to working alongside individuals who have been convicted for serious offences. To address the many facets of this complex issue, Rework Reentry’s work is focused on three main areas.
- Comprehensive research resulting in a guide for tech companies: Through extensive interviews with Next Chapter partners, re-entry advocates and justice-impacted people, as well as independent research, Rework Reentry is developing a tactical guide that will educate tech companies on the challenges that other organisations have faced when bringing returning citizens into their workforce, and specific strategies to overcome these hurdles. The guide will be released in autumn 2022.
- Direct engagement with key stakeholders in the tech and justice ecosystems: Rework Reentry is organising numerous virtual and in-person events in the coming months to convene tech sector leaders, community partners and justice reform advocates for in-depth, actionable conversations on the subject of workforce inclusion for formerly incarcerated individuals.
- Amplification of documentary storytelling on incarceration and re-entry: Rework Reentry is proud to feature a newly released trailer of the new documentary short film series Home/Free on the initiative’s online learning space, reworkreentry.org. Narrated by singer-songwriter, producer, activist and FREEAMERICA founder John Legend, the series shares the personal stories of formerly incarcerated individuals and the barriers that they all have faced after leaving prison – barriers that effectively prevent those who have returned home from being truly free.
How you can help
For more information on Rework Reentry and how you can help to build career pathways for returning citizens, visit the initiative’s online learning space at reworkreentry.org or visit nextchapterproject.org.
In July, the Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative will present a webinar called Breaking the Record: New Job Pathways for Returning Citizens, a conversation featuring executives and advocates committed to creating employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. Details about upcoming virtual and in-person events can be found at reworkreentry.org.
If you are interested in bringing Next Chapter to your organisation, or would like to apply for an apprenticeship, please contact Next Chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org or Slack for Good at email@example.com.
Senior executives at tech companies who are interested in joining special meetings on this issue are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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