A major effort is under way in this country to reform the way we sentence drug criminals. Thousands of felons are getting early release according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and that will continue for years to come.
The question is, will there be jobs for them?
If you visit the bakery at Dave’s Killer Bread outside Portland, you’ll find pumps sucking two-thousand pounds of ingredients into mixing bowls. You’ll also find that a third of the company’s 300 employees have a criminal past, including plant manager Ronnie Elrod.
Dave’s Killer Bread Plant Manager Ronnie Elrod served years in prison. Today he oversees critical bakery operations.
“We’re just so happy to have a job that typically we’ve got an attitude of gratitude rather than a sense of entitlement. And we also know that opportunities are going to be hard to come by for us so we have to take those opportunities that come along and we really have to make good on them,” Elrod said.
And Harvard sociologist Devah Pager believes that’s true. She is studying the job performance of ex-cons in the military. “Those with serious criminal pasts perform just as well if not better than their counterparts with no criminal records. At least with appropriate kinds of screening, individuals with serious criminal records can perform very well in the workplace,” she said.
Another of Pager’s studies shows that a criminal record seriously reduces the chances of getting a job. “I hired groups of young men to pose as job applicants and sent them all over the city applying for jobs and half the time they reported having a felony conviction and simply by checking that box, their chances of receiving a call-back or job offer were cut in half,” Pager said.
Dave’s Killer Bread has hired so many ex-convicts because, well because of Dave…Dave Dahl, that is. After serving 15 years for drug crimes, Dahl returned to his family’s bakery and in 2005 created his namesake bread. “It was based on the epiphany I had in prison which was that I could turn my own life around and eventually the feeling was that we could help others to do the same thing if they were willing to do most of the work themselves,” Dahl said.
The company uses its hiring practices as a selling point, with Dahl’s picture on every package, even though a judge put him on conditional release after he rammed into some police cars two years ago.
This year Dave’s Killer Bread was sold to Flowers Foods for $275 million.