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Ben & Jerry’s aims to mitigate poverty-to-prison pipeline with new hiring program


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

May 31, 2022 | 5 min read

Ben & Jerry’s — the beloved ice cream brand that calls itself “an aspiring social justice company” — is advancing its racial equity objectives through a new hiring program that aims to match young people at risk for incarceration with valuable, long-term job opportunities.

ice cream scoops

Ben & Jerry's is serving up new employment opportunities for at-risk youth / Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry’s, which has rarely shied from taking stances on hot-button social issues like abortion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, racial justice and climate change, has today announced it is joining Unlock Potential, a new hiring program that works with major corporations to offer long-term employment for at-risk youth. In an announcement today, the ice cream purveyor said the program aims to “advance racial equity, recruit the next generation of corporate leaders and help disrupt the poverty-to-prison pipeline.”

The company’s chief executive officer Matthew McCarthy offered an impassioned endorsement of the program’s vision, saying: “The importance of second-chance employment efforts cannot be overstated. But hiring individuals when they’re released from prison isn’t enough — we have to be taking steps to stop them ending up there in the first place.”

McCarthy recently penned an op-ed for Fast Company about the need for companies to offer early employment opportunities to at-risk populations so as to help attenuate the cycle of poverty that too often results in incarceration. He explains that formerly incarcerated people suffer among the highest rates of unemployment — and that their total lifetime earnings can be diminished by more than 30%.

Such obstacles disproportionately affect BIPOC communities. In fact, Black Americans are incarcerated at close to five times the rate of white Americans, and research conducted by the National Employment Law Project indicates that a criminal record can be 40% more damaging for Black men than white men when it comes to employment prospects.

Unlock Potential, which is backed by the Center for Racial Equity and was co-created by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, aims to stop the problem at its root. The initiative targets young people aged 16 to 24 who are not employed or receiving an education and who have additional risk factors for incarceration including an incarcerated parent, association with sex or human trafficking, a history with the juvenile justice system and involvement in the foster care system. By creating employment opportunities for these at-risk people, Unlock Potential and its corporate partners help to break the cycle.

“Data show that meaningful employment opportunities are one of the most impactful ways to prevent future incarceration. Unlock Potential will create those first chances,” explained McCarthy in a statement today.

As program participants, a number of Ben & Jerry’s locations will match with prospective hires with the goal of offering long-term employment with opportunities for career advancement. Those hired through the program will also gain access to a handful of support services through the national nonprofit organization Persevere to help them succeed in all areas of their lives.

Unlock Potential is a forthcoming initiative that will kick off as a 12-month pilot program following a design consultation phase expected to wrap in October.

Ben & Jerry’s participation in the program is part of its broader efforts to support racial equity and justice. “Unlock Potential is a critical component in the advancement of our Racial Equity work," said Allie Reid, the company’s senior retail racial equity and inclusion manager. “Creating meaningful career opportunities for Black and Brown at-risk youth supports skill development and economic mobility in the communities we serve and exist in.”

While Unlock Potential aims to create valuable career opportunities for young people, the program also offers the benefit of helping organizations like Ben & Jerry’s fill positions amid a historic labor shortage and invest in future leadership.

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