CHICAGO — The Second Chance employment program of Flowers Foods, Inc., hiring employees with a criminal background, should not be seen as “charity” or a way of showing “pity,” said Dan Letchinger, senior vice president of growth brands at Flowers.

The program should be viewed “from a perspective of hiring the best person for the job — full stop,” he said.   Mr. Letchinger offered background about the program March 1 at the American Society of Baking BakingTech 2023 at the Hilton hotel in Chicago.

“We believe that a criminal conviction should not be a barrier to gaining full employment,” he said. “If an individual is ready for change, if they are ready to come to work, work hard, come to work on time, be a reliable hard worker, then why not offer them a job? Like most folks in business, we are looking for loyal and hardworking employees, and we think it would be foolish to turn away folks who check those two boxes just because they check a different box on their job application.”

The Second Chance program was an integral part of the Dave’s Killer Bread (DKB) business acquired by Flowers in 2015. Mr. Letchinger related the story of how Dave Dahl returned to his family’s baking business in Oregon and launched the brand after serving 15 years in prison. DKB has grown rapidly under Flowers’ ownership.

With several years of DKB ownership, Mr. Letchinger said Flowers views itself as “thought leaders” around the issue of hiring employees with criminal records. This pool of employment candidates is not a small one, he said.

“Today, one in four Americans has a criminal background,” Mr. Letchinger said. He said the chance a job applicant with a criminal background will be called in for a job interview is 50% lower than the rest of the population.

Recidivism rates are high (two thirds of those released from prison end up back in prison within five years) in part because of the difficulties those with criminal pasts experience when trying to gain employment.

“The deck is really stacked against you,” he said, noting that “basic things we take for granted” such as signing a lease or opening a bank account often are not possible for those with criminal histories.

Mr. Letchinger described widely held misperceptions about individuals with criminal backgrounds, with a stereotypical image of hardened, grizzled, violent criminals.

“The reality is much more nuanced,” he said. “I’ve worked with dozens of people who went to prison. If they hadn’t told me, there’s no way I would know. We know these employees can be some of the hardest working and most loyal. Imagine how grateful you would be if 10 doors were slammed on you and then 1 opened.”

Flowers now offers Second Chance employment at all 49 of its baking plants. Mr. Letchinger urged others in the audience to adopt such a program.

“We’re looking for more employers to join this cause,” he said.

He offered the Flowers Foods human resources team as a resource and said he also would share resources in the non-profit space to help with onboarding.

“There are tons of resources,” he said.