Fostering Equitable Hiring Policies for Individuals with Criminal Records, Innovations from the Yale School of Medicine’s TCN Program

JCOIN Spotlight: Yale School of Medicine Clinical Research Center

For the past fifteen years, the Yale School of Medicine’s Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) has worked with health systems and hospital human resources to change hiring policies around criminal records to ensure this essential workforce is employed in clinical care and research settings. The TCN program provides opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment and enhanced primary care for individuals released from incarceration. People who have been incarcerated must be involved in a meaningful and consistent manner when designing, implementing, analyzing, and disseminating research. This entails listening to and collaborating with people who have lived experience of incarceration, in ways that are both comfortable and accessible for these most vital stakeholders, while respecting them as experts on the issues affecting their lives.

Reentry community health workers (CHWs) across the TCN have co-authored multiple peer-reviewed journals that have made further advances in literature focused on CHWs’ role when working with patients, the importance of CHWs’ professional development, and the invaluable perspective they contribute to research and clinical settings because of their lived experiences related to social inequities and incarceration. The TCN program provides opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment and enhanced primary care for individuals released from incarceration.

Through JCOIN, TCN: Post Incarceration Addiction Treatment, Healthcare, and Social Support (TCN-PATHS) has had some successes in modifying existing policies to enable the sites to hire individuals with histories of criminal-legal involvement, including in Minnesota where site principal investigator, Dr. Tyler Winkelman and colleagues collaborated with the TCN and Hennepin Healthcare human resources to modify existing hiring policies. Additionally, at Yale University, the TCN-PATHS team advised human resources to change university-wide hiring policies to foster more equity and transparency to promote hiring people with criminal records, who are disproportionately from racially minoritized communities. It is now standard practice at Yale for the human resources office to seek input from formerly incarcerated employees and public safety officers when writing hiring policies. TCN-PATHS is currently surveilling written hiring policies at each of the TCN-PATHS affiliated organizations to determine whether they remain in compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on best hiring practices regarding people with criminal records. For instance, when companies clearly post their transparent policies regarding hiring of people with criminal records, studies show that they are more likely to hire applicants with records (Harvard Business Review, Sept. 2021).

By implementing inclusive hiring policies and procedures, universities and community-based health care systems can play a role in reversing the harms of mass incarceration by creating job opportunities and a work environment that empowers people with criminal records to leverage their lived experience of incarceration as an asset for serving patients and building research teams.