Workforce, Criminal Justice Leaders Across West Virginia Come Together to Screen Documentary from Award-Winning Filmmakers

Judge Michael J. Aloi, former corrections commissioner Betsy Jividen join other local leaders in urging businesses to offer “Second Chances for a Stronger Workforce”

CHARLESTON, WV — APRIL 17, 2024 — Workforce and criminal justice leaders from across West Virginia will join forces next week for a screening of the documentary “Being Free,” from producers of the award-winning PBS series, Roadtrip Nation. The film, which follows the journey of three formerly incarcerated people on the search for careers after prison, will be followed by an interactive panel discussion at Charleston’s Capitol Theater on April 30th. 

“High recidivism rates aren’t just an issue of social justice — they’re a fundamental barrier to economic mobility for so many in our state,” said the Honorable Judge Michael J. Aloi, United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia. “By creating new paths to the workforce for West Virginians returning from incarceration, we have the opportunity to solve a critical challenge facing our communities and begin to create a culture of rehabilitation.”

West Virginia is continuing to grapple with a persistent worker shortage, with just 54 workers for every 100 open jobs. At the same time, the state’s incarceration rate outpaces the national average, and the journey home for formerly incarcerated West Virginians is particularly fraught, as 58% of people in state prison and 63% of people sentenced to local jail contend with substance abuse disorder. Faced with challenges maintaining sobriety, a lack of affordable housing, and barriers to employment—both in terms of skills and access to opportunity—the state’s recidivism rate remains one of the highest in the nation at 29.3%, and economic mobility remains elusive.

“The connection between recidivism and substance abuse in West Virginia is significant,” stated Deb Harris, Manager at Jobs & Hope WV—a Governor Jim Justice initiative launched by the State of West Virginia to assist individuals affected by substance abuse. “This correlation presents a substantial challenge but offers a distinct opportunity to address two enduring issues simultaneously. Forward-looking businesses statewide are demonstrating the potential for meaningful impact by recognizing the capabilities of formerly incarcerated individuals and actively supporting their reintegration into the workforce.” 

According to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the insights and experiences shared by the subjects of “Being Free,” which was produced with support from the national philanthropy The Just Trust, led to significant changes in how HR and talent leaders perceive formerly incarcerated individuals. Three months after watching the film, HR professionals were 16 percent more likely to “strongly agree” that formerly incarcerated people bring unique strengths to the workplace, and 17 percent more likely to agree that there are benefits to hiring workers who have been impacted by the justice system.

“Both research and anecdotal experience confirm how crucial storytelling is when it comes to changing entrenched systems,” said Mike Marriner, co-founder and President of Roadtrip Nation. “This initiative is about helping business and community leaders across West Virginia share the experiences of those who have succeeded in their return from incarceration, and make the case for fair chance hiring as an essential part of the state’s economic growth strategy in the years to come.”

The screening is part of a nationwide initiative supported by The Just Trust, a national philanthropy focused on criminal justice issues, To learn more about the screening and register to attend, follow the link here.

###   |   833-784-1385   |   304-583-4008