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A key component of Smart Justice is advancing economic prosperity for justice-involved communities. Due to the vast collateral consequences of incarceration, formerly incarcerated people face discrimination at nearly every turn while re-entering society, especially in the workforce. As a result, many talented job candidates are often economically forced to take low-wage, low-skill, and high-risk jobs to pay the bills. Through a high-growth sector approach, 20MM is investing in career pathways to create onramps into high-wage earning potential careers for this untapped talent pool of justice-involved candidates.

This year, we awarded a Michelson Spark Grant to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) to support their efforts in promoting high-growth, well-paying careers for justice-involved candidates in green technologies, construction trade unions, and other vocational training programs. Additionally, this project advances fair chance hiring, financial literacy, leadership programming, and policy work. 

Mass incarceration is uniquely an American problem, creating a predicament in which over 70 million workers and job seekers navigate the labor market with a criminal record. Simultaneously, the nation is facing a skills gap in high-growth industries. ARC recognizes this issue and is solidifying opportunities in high-growth, high-wage earning potential careers to support their members in filling employer and workforce needs. The Spark Grant enables ARC to build upon their seven years of demonstrated success in workforce and education programming for formerly incarcerated community members. Central to ARC’s innovative rehabilitative model is credible messengers, their staff and leadership’s lived experiences of incarceration support members in successful reentry. Programmatically, all of ARC’s services and policies have been co-designed by and with formerly incarcerated members.

Postsecondary education creates pathways to financial success, and there is a direct correlation between earnings and education level, particularly in a labor market that continues to migrate away from low-skill jobs. ARC’s vocational training programs and workforce initiatives partner with institutions of higher education to connect members with the skills and training opportunities needed to be successful in high growth careers. Additionally, ARC is working with employers to advance fair chance hiring practices in the private sector, which is crucial since having a record can negatively impact job seeking. The Fair Chance campaign ARC is launching goes beyond traditional methods of job development via changing internal human resources practices. By working with employers such as AEG, Staples Center, Microsoft Theater, The Yerba Mate Co., Los Angeles Kings, NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Studios, and Marvel Studios, ARC is transforming company cultures as they recognize the talent their company needs is available within the untapped talent pool of justice-involved candidates. Additionally, financial literacy is critical for members to plan for their financial futures after securing employment. To further support ARC’s financial literacy work, the Spark Grant adds a new Credit Counseling and Understanding Credit Scores course to ARC’s financial literacy program: Asset Building and Financial Management.

ARC empowers formerly incarcerated communities and families to lead policy advocacy initiatives through leadership training, direct advocacy, and storytelling. By sharing their compelling stories, ARC’s members are changing the hearts and minds of policymakers. The Spark Grant supports policy work on both the local and state levels. Most recently, ARC, youth justice advocates, and the Los Angeles Youth Uprising (LAYUP) Coalition won a decade-plus fight to transform the juvenile justice system as we know it in Los Angeles County. On November 24th, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to uproot the largest youth justice system in the nation in favor of a care-first model that focuses on emotional support, counseling, and treatment. This landmark vote lays the groundwork to transition the Los Angeles County’s youth justice system out of the Probation Department and invest an initial $75 million to establish a new Department of Youth Development. The move was based on a set of recommendations outlined in a report titled Youth Justice Reimagined, produced by the county’s Youth Justice Work Group. ARC team members served as consultants on the Work Group, and 20MM was involved through a funders workgroup, promoting higher education and career pathways as key interventions for the new Department of Youth Development. 

ARC advances policy and system changes by mobilizing its network of 1,600+ formerly incarcerated members and elevating lived experience. The Spark Grant supports the Life Without Parole (LWOP) Project, a collaborative initiative led by Human Rights Watch, ARC, and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law Post-Conviction Justice Project to influence public dialogue and amplify the stories of formerly incarcerated people through storytelling and education while equipping participants to become leaders in their professional lives. Through thought leadership and catalytic infusions of funding, Michelson 20MM partners with leaders like the Anti-Recidivism Coalition to advance economic prosperity for justice-involved communities.

To learn more about the Spark Grant program, previous rounds, and future funding opportunities we invite you to visit this page.

Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Learn more at www.20mm.org.