For someone who’s just gotten out of prison, it can often be nearly impossible to land a job, both because of the bias of hiring managers and because someone who’s spent years behind bars hasn’t had the chance to build experience for a résumé. Those who do find work often end up in low-paid jobs. A new nonprofit called Second Chance Studios focuses on helping people find digital media jobs instead.
“We have a lot of formerly incarcerated people coming out of the system just getting manual labor jobs and not having the opportunity to do anything digitally,” says cofounder Coss Marte, who was formerly incarcerated himself. Marte, who also struggled to find a job and eventually ended up launching his own business—a successful gym in New York City called ConBody—wanted to help others in the same situation.
Second Chance Studios will employ 12 formerly incarcerated fellows in its yearlong, New York-based program, which offers experience in producing videos, podcasts, and other digital media for customers. Mentors in other digital production studios around the city will also work with fellows throughout the program, and the nonprofit will also help place them in well-paid jobs by the end of the program or help them launch their own companies.
It’s a way to help avoid the cycle of people who are released from prison ending up incarcerated again. Each year, around 8,500 people in New York City are released from prison; within three years, more than half are rearrested. Of those who have jobs a year after release, the recidivism rate drops to 31%.
“Especially at this time, with the national conversation going on, it’s really important for people to find creative solutions to public safety that go beyond arresting people,” says Second Chance Studios cofounder Ravi Gupta. “There are many ways that you can create a more safe and just society than putting people in jail.”
The team decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the nonprofit rather than solely raising funds from larger donors. “We want to show that there’s grassroots enthusiasm for this kind of idea,” Gupta says. The program is not inexpensive, since the fellows are paid for full-time work, but Gupta points out that it’s far cheaper than incarceration. New York City spends more than $330,000 per year on inmates. “Our cost comes in at about a third of the cost per year that it takes the state to lock somebody up,” Gupta says. “For people who aren’t moved by the equity and the justice arguments and just thinking in terms of dollars and cents . . . this is an incredible use of resources for the payoff to keep people out of the system.”
The renewed focus on inequality means that those who go through the program, many of whom are people of color, may now have a better chance of finding a job. Marte says that he’s talked to several companies that are now realizing they need to do more to diversify their teams. “They want to change the company culture, and they want to give that opportunity for people of color,” he says. “I think companies want to make things happen.”