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Last week, the Justice Action Network – a national coalition of chambers of commerce, corrections programs and business associations – sent the legislative leaders of the U.S. House and Senate a letter urging passage of the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act, which will help address a skills gap within the nation’s workforce and provide incarcerated persons a second chance.
The legislation aims to provide job training, treatment and rehabilitation programs to those who are currently cycling in and out of America’s jails and prisons. It provides tools for business and trade associations to implement their own job training programs behind prison walls to help incarcerated people learn skills that are tailored to jobs employers have difficultly filling and can help them transition successfully from “prisons to paychecks.”
In making the case for the bill’s passage, the coalition letter lists some of the industries that could benefit from the FIRST STEPS Act, including trucking, construction and manufacturing. One example provided was the National Association of Home Builders, which is experiencing labor shortages in all specialties and trades and has 300,000 unfilled construction jobs nationwide. Likewise, the manufacturing sector will need to fill 3.5 million jobs over the next decade – 2 million of which are expected to go unfilled due to a lack of skilled candidates.
“That is why chambers of commerce and business leaders in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have strongly supported state criminal justice reform efforts that break down barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated, and why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gone one step further by endorsing the FIRST STEP Act, which will help ensure that incarcerated people are job-ready before they take their first steps of freedom,” the coalition wrote.
The PA Chamber supports this legislation as a good step toward addressing Pennsylvania’s workforce development challenges. Last session, we supported “Clean Slate” legislation. This bill, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, is a first of its kind program to provide a mechanism for individuals with low-level, non-violent criminal offenses to have those records sealed from public view and give them a better chance at securing housing and a good job.