Slack turns ex-convicts to tech experts

Updated: Jul 27

Slack Technologies is a software company that designed a messaging program specifically for the workplace.



This tech company is working on an initiative that trains and hires formerly incarcerated people into the tech industry. Slack understands how employment restrictions for the formerly incarcerated not only keep them out of jobs and provide a gateway to re-offend; but employment restrictions can also cause companies and sometimes entire industries to miss out on the benefits of diversity, inclusion, and plenty of talent.


In the US today, the number of people currently incarcerated is approximately 2.3 million. This figure has grown by 700% since the 70’s. Statistics show that people of colour are disproportionately affected. Black people are six times more likely to be incarcerated compared to their white counterparts, even though they are a minority and account for only 12% of the population in the US. Every year 650,000 people are released from prison. Among those who are released, 60% of people leave without skills that will help them to reintegrate into society.


Slack’s goal is to provide a way for the formerly incarcerated to positively contribute to society. Tech has suffered in terms of diversity and was often a non-inclusive industry. Women and people of colour still lack representation as only 5.5% of new hires in google were black and women make up 25% of the industry. Slack is working to close this diversity gap. Upskilling the formerly incarcerated into tech careers is a good way to tackle this diversity crisis.


Slack plan on breaking the cycle of incarceration as well as changing the perception and removing the stigma of ex-convicts not deserving second chances. Slack believes there are many talented individuals that could showcase their tech skills but don’t have the opportunity to do so. Studies and surveys show that people with records are more loyal to the companies that hire them. They also tend to be more productive and get promoted at a higher rate compared to other workers. Some employers are unwilling to take the risk of hiring them and as a result miss out on talent.


Partnership with Next Chapter



In 2018, Slack formed a partnership with Next chapter to allow the formally incarcerated to gain employment in tech. Next chapter allow people with records to enter an eight-month engineering apprenticeship at slack. Once the program is over candidates are eligible for an interview and full time hiring by slack. Since partnering with slack, Next chapter has gained 14 more hiring partner companies including Dropbox, Square, and Zoom.


Meet Jess Bonanno. Formally incarcerated in her early 20’s, she is now a software engineer at Slack. Growing up, she went through various family issues prompting her to find an escape. Her escape was technology. After getting into more and more trouble, this led her to be incarcerated for over a year. Upon release, she worked as a house painter for years and didn’t believe she could get a real career. In 2019, Bonanno joined a night-time coding bootcamp to learn how to code and later discovered Next Chapter.


Bonanno is one of the thirty people with records that have graduated from the Next chapter apprenticeship program and found full time tech work.


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