Restorative Record Serves Justice-impacted Job Candidates

May 6, 2024

In its purest form, technology can and should be used to enact positive social change. This is the belief that inspired Cornell University’s Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative (CJEI) to create an innovative response to the exclusionary hiring practices and stigma that negatively impact criminal justice reform.

According to forthcoming research from Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), 92% of private employers perform criminal background checks, but only 50% consider whether a candidate’s criminal record is relevant to the job. Even more concerning, up to 50% of criminal records contain errors and 25% of employers don’t verify the accuracy of these reports.

These discriminatory hiring practices affect over 70 million Americans with criminal records and every year another 650,000 people are released from State and Federal prisons.

In response, CJEI worked with Gigster to create Restorative Record, a digital hiring tool for justice-impacted job candidates and fair-chance employers. The story of how this idea was developed into an enterprise-grade application provides insights for future social innovation in the tech space.

Innovation Inspired by Real Experience

This project was originally conceived by Jodi Anderson Jr., Director of Technological Innovation at CJEI. He had personal experience with the challenges of post-prison job life as an alumnus of the Cornell Prison Education Program.

After his release, Anderson Jr. attended Stanford University and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Economy and Development and a Master’s Degree in Education. He joined several startups in Silicon Valley and continued to gain experience and credentials. Unfortunately, his criminal record limited his ability to secure traditional, full-time employment.

“Despite the accolades I had up until that point, it still wasn’t enough,” said Anderson Jr. “With a dozen plus companies, every time I got to the final interview with the background check, it came back with a rejection.”

Finally, he was able to share his life story, mentorships, education, and other rehabilitation efforts with a potential employer, Reddit. The company saw Anderson Jr.’s value. 

This single use case inspired him to conduct research into how technology can be used to mitigate the collateral consequences of third-party background and screening companies. He reconnected with Cornell and their Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative and received funding for Restorative Record. The digital hiring tool aimed to provide justice-involved job candidates a way to share rehabilitative efforts such as counseling, community service, mentoring experiences, micro-credentials, education and hobbies with prospective employers.

Developing an Enterprise-Grade Hiring Platform

“I had early versions of the product, which was more of a user-facing product. It wasn’t enterprise-grade. Technology like that is on a whole different order of expertise. And there were only three of us [on the project]. There’s no way we could pull this off. We needed an army.”

The initial pilot for Restorative Record involved integrating the application across all seven schools at Cornell University and an HR system that manages 18,158 employees. CJEI turned to Gigster for their enterprise development knowledge and ability to quickly assemble a team with the necessary expertise.

Gigster coordinated with CJEI and the various Cornell stakeholders, departments, and vendors to build an enterprise-grade plan to integrate with their existing hiring systems such as Workday. The processes and teams Gigster had already established through years of enterprise app development allowed us to quickly document the technical architecture, protocols, data security and other considerations needed to move the project forward.

Once the project was underway, the team of Gigsters conducted weekly sprints to develop a beta application in only two months.

“In spades, Gigster just came through - all the documentation, full team, technical architecture. When you’re dealing with a big client like Cornell it's impossible to do that with a small team. It’s the ability to meet all the demands of that scale of client. Multiple different departments and all kinds of checklists, and there wasn’t a single issue we weren’t able to jump over.”

Key Takeaways for Custom App Development

Project sponsors looking to get their idea developed can take a lot away from the CJEI team’s experience working with Gigster on Restorative Record.

“Start smaller and targeted with people who are advocates early on. Even if it's not perfect, build something that people can see and toy around with. Be a builder first and be open to feedback and integration. It's easier to convince stakeholders when you have something that’s tangible.”

Creating a low-cost MVP is the best way to stress test your idea and create a clearer path forward toward making the project happen. Putting a MVP in the hands of stakeholders and advocates offers invaluable feedback early on in the process when it can make the most impact on the final product. Taking this feedback into consideration is also the best way to earn buy-in from stakeholders as they gain a personal investment in the success of the project.

Custom Software Development Services

If you have a project that requires further expertise to develop, Gigster can help deliver a MVP through our low-cost scoping services.

Technology for Social Innovation

”Here we are building something truly innovative, and the pace of development is matching that.”

Gigster was very proud to be involved in such an impactful project with an inspiring story. We were able to help Jodi Anderson Jr. and the CJEI team use technology to address a challenge faced in his own life that can now improve the lives of millions of people who share his circumstances. Innovation such as this requires leaders who will champion their solutions and it requires a development partner that understands the ins and outs of a custom development approach.

Restorative Record is a promising development in the struggle of criminal justice reform. We look forward to working with CJEI to grow their mission and hope to continue working on socially conscious and innovative projects.

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