'Second chance hiring': Ex-White House director backs revolutionary HR scheme

From the Secret Service to Jimmy Carter's Pastor, this exec is changing recruitment for good

'Second chance hiring': Ex-White House director backs revolutionary HR scheme

Tony Lowden has made it his life’s mission to help people who’ve been incarcerated reintegrate into the general workforce – and educate employers on the unique talents that this group can offer.

“Growing up in north Philadelphia, one of the worst ghettos in America, allowed me to see first-hand the impact that mass incarceration has on people,” Lowden told HRD. “Men and women who got caught up in the social ills of our communities went in and out of prisons – and they’d come home the same way. When I moved to Georgia, I realized that some of the kids that I was mentoring had family members who were involved in the prison system - and these kids were on that path, too. I decided I wanted to do something about it.”

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And Lowden has quite the career history to back up these convictions. Not only was he Chaplain for the Secret Service in southwest Georgia, he also serves as the Pastor to President Jimmy Carter. In 2020, Lowden was appointed by the White House as the Executive Director of the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry. He now serves as the Vice President of Reintegration & Community Engagement at ViaPath Technologies, a company that provides incarcerated individuals access to technology and education to improve their personal outcomes during incarceration and post-release. With over 20 years’ experience on the local, state, and national levels, there’s no one better positioned to help formerly incarcerated people – giving them a chance to make a real difference to society.

This is where second chance hiring comes in. Right now, we’re suffering from a global talent shortage – one which has been rocked by mass resignations and sector switches. Lowden believes second chance hiring is the lifeline HR needs.

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“We’re in a hypercompetitive, hypersensitive economy,” added Lowden. “Companies are struggling to identify strong candidates at all levels of their operations. What’s more, too many employers are missing out on what I call ‘qualified talent’. There’s this huge segment of our population who are trying to get back into work. Hundreds of thousands of men and women come home from prison every year – we need to start asking ourselves how do we want them to come home. Do we want them to go into the workforce or become homeless? I've seen areas where those that have come out of prison, and have changed their lives, are willing to do the work that a lot of people are not willing to do in this economy. People need to start understanding there’s this huge, untapped talent pool here ready for the picking – the skills these people bring are second to none.”

And Lowden’s not wrong. Formerly incarcerated people bring a wealth of talent to the workforce that other groups don’t. For one, turnover is much lower – quality improves, and, most importantly, they’re incredibly grateful and eager to thrive.

“Their families see them changing,” added Lowden. “Their sons and daughters are seeing that their father is working, that he's improving his life. That's a whole gamechanger. We shouldn't turn our back on our citizens. There was a time that we used labour from our prisons. Back then, the judges gave them options of either going to jail or joining the military. But now we have an opportunity to connect with men and women who’re coming from our prisons and say, you know what? We want to give you that same grace and opportunity to go to work in our communities.”

For some employers, the stigma of hiring a formerly incarcerated person is holding them back – which is rather hypocritical for businesses that preach compassion as a core value. In reality, companies need to start looking at their own culture, seeing how they can amend and improve it, in order to help these employees really succeed. Soon enough, employers will realise that these employees are loyal, they’re engaged, and they’re motivated. 

“I remember a young lady who was on meth and pregnant,” Lowden recalled. “She also had a son in prison and I actually began mentoring her and her son. She’s now working in HR for Amazon. She’s turned her whole life around. These are the types of things that we can do. We have to ask ourselves, and our governments across the world, are we compassionate enough to give people second chances? Can we move our nations in a way that keeps our economies running and puts people to work, instead of allowing them to be homeless on our streets? Desperate people do desperate things – HR has a real opportunity to change that. And it begins with second chance hiring.”


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