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Slack's Next Chapter Program changes lives through fair chance employment

Statistics that can't be ignored

“States and the federal government spend $48 billion annually on prisons, and the prison investments are growing faster than state investment in colleges and universities”. Moreover, “an estimated $87 billion in gross domestic product is lost to the U.S. economy each year because of incarceration. And yet more than half of the 600,000 people released from prisons and jails every year will end up back behind bars. The biggest factor? They can’t find a job”. - Lucretia Murphy, Senior Director at JFF (read her full article here)


These shocking statistics are beginning to encourage more and more corporate leaders and employers to implement their own fair chance hiring processes.


The challenges of transitioning to corporate life after release

Understanding the importance of changing the bias against hiring people with criminal records, CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, launched the “Next Chapter” program in 2018 with the collaboration of Kellogg Foundation, Free America, and The Last Mile. After a visit to San Quentin State Prison in California, Butterfield realized that the individuals who society perceived as “prisoners” were actually valuable talent with endless potential. Inmates at San Quentin are provided with high-tech training that could possibly help them find employment in the technology industry after release. However, even with a strong education in a highly sought-after field, the structural and social barriers are often still too high to unlock potential career paths for many formerly incarcerated individuals. As Kennyatta Leal, director of reentry at Next Chapter says in Murphy’s article:

“It’s a big challenge to have to make the paradigm shift from an incarcerated setting into a corporate world or a tech environment, and when you have this stigma that’s associated with that, that’s a huge hurdle to get over.”
A discussion about criminal justice reform between Stewart Butterfield (CEO of Slack), Kenyatta Leal (director of reentry at Next Chapter), Robin Thede (comedic actress, writer, sketch and improvisational comedian), and John Legend (Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, producer, activist and the founder of Free America). Link to picture: bit.ly/slacknextchapter

Promising results

The main goal of the Next Chapter program is to “shift perception about the potential of people who have been incarcerated, and to generate new opportunities in skilled, long-term employment in the technology sector for people reentering the community”. To accomplish this, Next Chapter offers Slack apprenticeships to graduates of the training programs, providing support and mentorship as they transition to corporate life. Butterfield mentioned that these are small initiatives and they may be a “little niche,” but they have the potential to changes lives. By developing highly marketable skills that are valuable in the technology industry, Next Chapter forges a path to long-term employment with competitive salaries.


The first inmates who went through Next Chapter were hired at Slack after release, and are proving themselves to be valuable employees with strong professional and personal skills relevant to the tech industry. The promising results have empowered the Next Chapter program to encourage more and more employers to change lives through implementing fair-chance hiring processes, including Zoom, Dropbox, Square, Affirm, Checkr, GoodRx, American Family Insurance, and Lob.

“We’ve come up with a thousand ways to make sure that [a] plastic bottle gets a new life, but far too few to make sure that somebody getting out of prison does,” - Kennyatta Leal in Murphy, 2021

Read Lucretia Murphy’s article here: bit.ly/slacknextchapterprogram

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