4 Successful Businesses That Employ Formerly Incarcerated People

Is it possible to turn a profit while doing good? Of course it is. Whether it comes to a corporate structure with a conscience or a true social enterprise, businesses can provide quality goods and services while also improving society.

So take note, soulless corporations wreaking havoc on the planet, backing military coups and exploiting entire classes of people for shareholder benefit: There’s another way.

Largely due to regressive and often racist criminal justice legislation, there are more formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. than in almost any other country. And for those with a criminal record, job hunting can prove to be a major struggle.

These four successful business specifically tap into and build upon the human capital of this overlooked and often mistreated group.

1. Homeboy Industries

This company is a social enterprise, or rather, a conglomeration of nine social enterprises — and counting. Homeboy Industries hires ex-convicts for all of these business initiatives, everything from farmer’s markets and electronics recycling to a restaurant and a bakery.

The model has been replicated throughout country and even overseas, with some 250 other organizations setting up the same type of organization. But Homeboy Industries started out just trying to provide former gang members in East Los Angeles a next step in life that didn’t involve returning to gang life.

The testimonials are truly something special. One man says he sent out over 150 applications after being released from prison before Homeboy finally hired him. The tough-on-crime politicians often pay lip service to paying a debt to society and providing a path to reform, but in practice it can feel to many ex-cons like the debt is never considered paid and returning to a life of crime is literally the only option.

Homeboy Industries is actively changing that.

2. Google

In late 2015, President Barack Obama had this to say with regards to post-incarceration employment:

Now, a lot of time, [a] record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society — even if you’ve already paid your debt to society…. That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.

The former president was announcing his Fair Chance Business Pledge initiative, and a lot of major companies signed on – including Facebook, Starbucks, and Google.

Among other things, signing the pledge included a promise to do away with the checkbox on many job applications that asks the applicant to disclose whether they have ever committed a felony. This is a critical improvement, because while criminal record checks may come later, a previous conviction isn’t immediately used to weed people out before the interview process. Therefore, applicants get a chance to make their case and be seen as a whole humans, with a record being just one aspect of their history and identity.

But Google takes it a step further. The company is not only making a significant commitment to reaching out to this regularly excluded group, but it’s also calling on other technology companies to follow its lead and advocating politically for criminal justice reform.

3. McDonald’s

As part of a broader commitment to inclusion, McDonald’s gives the formerly incarcerated a real chance at employment. Though 80 percent of McDonald’s locations are franchises, leaving hiring decisions to the local owners, the corporation as a whole sets the right tone. Their standard application doesn’t ask for background checks, and the company has a fairly good reputation for providing opportunity to those with felony records.

4. The U.S. Military

Well, it’s not a business, per se — but, yes, as a major employer in the United States, the military can provide tremendous opportunity for the formerly incarcerated, potentially recruiting people straight out of prison.

With up to one felony conviction as an adult, it’s possible to get a “felony waiver” and apply to any of the major branches of the military, as well as any of the major jobs within those branches. Military technicians, medics, electricians and engineers are all able to work civilian equivalents of these positions after they leave the service — though some choose to stay in the military for their entire careers.

Photo Credit: Jesson Mata/Unsplash


Thomas M
Thomas M2 days ago

thank you

Coo R
Coo R12 days ago

Great story

Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill21 days ago


Emma L
Emma L22 days ago

thank you for posting

Shae L
Shae Lee25 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

Janis K
Janis K26 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Chad Anderson
Chad A26 days ago

Thank you.

Toni W
Toni W26 days ago


Toni W
Toni W26 days ago


Vincent T
Vincent T26 days ago

thank you