The Coffee Shops Countering Recidivism

Duke Dalke, a former incarcerated beverage industry leader, found himself on trial once again after spending six months behind bars. He struggled to find employment and housing options after being released, as background checks were often closed and no thanks were given. A 2023 report in the Journal of Labor and Employment Law revealed that 60% of employers would not hire someone with a criminal record, and 87% of all employers said they do background checks prior to employment across all sectors. As a result, 60 to 75% of people who were formerly incarcerated remain unemployed a year after leaving prison.

Dalke started I Have a Bean, a coffee roaster in Wheaton, Illinois, at the recommendation of someone else who was incarcerated. The roastery helps people like him in the uphill battle to find gainful employment. Dalke has been with I Have a Bean for eight years and has since transitioned into a leadership role. He even interviews potential new employees—passing the baton of social mobility to candidates who were formerly incarcerated.

Underground Ministries, an organization that helps the formerly incarcerated get re-acclimated to daily life outside of prison, has a similar program. Executive director Chris Hoke says the coffee business was born in 2016 because the ministry had a direct trade relationship with a farm in Honduras. They then partnered with Fidalgo, a regional coffee brand, to launch Underground Coffee, which aims to help the previously incarcerated get gainful employment and build up a solid record that could help them progress in a new career path.

New York City’s Department of Corrections teamed up with Procreate Coffee, a Brooklyn-based organization that offers a number of barista-training programs for the general public, to launch a training program for inmates. The collaborative first launched the barista-training initiative at Rikers Island in 2017 and has expanded several times since then to be open to more inmates. The move comes despite massive budget cuts across New York City, which has led to Sunday closures of the New York Public Library, a 40% reduction in sidewalk trash collection from the Department of Sanitation, and even a reduction in other classes and programs at the Rikers Island prison.

Starbucks, the world’s biggest coffee shop chain, endorsed the “Ban the Box” movement on its job applications in 2015 by omitting the mandatory criminal history box. According to a report published in Iowa Law Review, by removing the box, people who were formerly incarcerated were 27% more likely to receive a callback than before the initiative took effect.

There are dozens of independent coffee shops around the country that are specifically designed to help the formerly incarcerated get back to work, including The Fringe Coffee House in Hamilton, Ohio, which has been in business for five years and employs 15 people.

Read More @ Yes Magazine

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