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CROP Organization – Investing in People Over Punishment

Mar 18, 2024

CROP Oakland Grand Opening in March 2023. A line of CROP staff and supporters including Kat Taylor pose for a photo on CROP's campus

Restorative opportunities for people impacted by the justice system

Hundreds of thousands of people return home from prison every year and need to find jobs and housing. Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs or CROP Organization provides a career development reentry program to formerly incarcerated folks to help set them up for success and self-efficacy. When support and resources are accessible, those returning home can support their families, contribute to the community, pay taxes, volunteer, and make our neighborhoods better places to live. “When we give people second chances along with the right support, we help to instill the same values we all share,” says Terah Lawyer, Executive Director of CROP.

The five founders of CROP Organization stand outside
The five founders of CROP Organization, a transformational nonprofit organization dedicated to reforming California’s criminal justice landscape through innovative and holistic approaches to reentry that reduce recidivism. Beneficial State Bank partners with CROP to provide free financial education as part of CROP's reintegration program for formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering their communities.

CROP was founded while its leadership team was incarcerated within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). While incarcerated, the team trained hundreds of people in personal and leadership development and provided alcohol and other drug training programs as well. Today, CROP runs its signature reentry program Ready 4 Life, equipping people impacted by the justice system with the tools they need for success in tech-focused careers. At their residential career campus in West Oakland, California, CROP also provides supportive housing to program participants. The program’s evolution is astounding and shows the power of a supportive and restorative environment.

CROP’s residential career campus is the first of its kind. “We envision our West Oakland campus as creating the blueprint for what successful reentry looks like more campuses. The government’s decision to invest in our program was a big win for us,” says Terah. “Counties across California are experiencing a drought of supportive services. This is just the beginning for CROP.”

In 2024, CROP will celebrate the first full year of its program. CROP celebrated a lot of milestones in 2023, including the opening of their residential career campus. They hosted a ribbon cutting and open house for 200 guests and their first fellows moved in last April. Each Fellow has their own room, they share kitchens and living space, and they attend classes each day on campus. The organization’s staff has doubled in size since its launch.

Tools for career success in the tech industry

A robust and diverse job market creates more opportunities for people transitioning back to life outside of prison. The local economy is among many other factors that make the Bay Area a good place to test CROP’s model: the culture and progressive politics, the concentration of the tech industry, and the large number of service industry jobs. Given the population density and the high concentration of folks paroled within the Bay Area’s nine counties, CROP can test its holistic program and make a big impact on participants.

The profile of a formerly incarcerated worker matches the ideal candidate for tech jobs: an aptitude for work, strong work ethic, drive, and commitment to giving back to the community. This type of worker often exceeds expectations. “Tech as an industry does not often engage with what we call ‘untapped talent,’” explains Terah. “We need tech companies to take the risk with their talent pools in the same way they take risks with their business innovation.”

Pairing programming with policy advocacy

CROP’s model focuses on three areas: programming to prepare justice-involved people for skilled tech careers, education for companies about Fair Chance hiring practices, and policy advocacy that reduces barriers and increases opportunities for people with records to reenter the community with dignity and economic opportunity.

CROP’s largest policy win was securing $27 million to fund its program with a goal of serving 390 people in three years with integrated reentry case management, housing, and workforce training.

In addition, Terah was appointed by Governor Newsom to serve on the Transformative Justice Council which was tasked with providing recommendations to transform San Quentin Prison into a rehabilitation center. Among its list of recommendations, the January 2024 report advises the state of California to expand support for organizations like CROP, emphasizing the importance of holistic wraparound services. “Our state elected officials understand the importance of holistic programming, and they are intentionally engaging folks directly impacted by the system to envision a new way forward,” says Terah.

Partnerships that deepen collective impact

Partnerships are a part of CROP’s ongoing success. “Our West Oakland location was serendipitous,” says Terah. “We shared our story with the owner, and they chose us to take over the space. We’re proud to be a part of this neighborhood and community.”

“Beneficial State Bank is a special partner,” adds Julia Root, Director of Development at CROP. “We meet monthly with the Beneficial State Bank team, and our partnership has grown and deepened over time. Before we had State funding, Beneficial State Bank supported our virtual pilot. We partnered together to create a mechanism to deliver monthly stipends to program participants and help participants start to save through onramps to banking and financial wellness education. We were excited to have Kat Taylor (Beneficial State Bank’s founder) be a keynote speaker at our ribbon cutting event last February. In addition, the Bank’s PR team has provided pro bono support to our organization and continues to sponsor events, like graduations.”

Beneficial State Bank is a FHLB member, and through our membership, CROP was awarded $70,000 to fund a new position on their team. We are so fortunate to partner with the CROP to provide their financial wellness program. Empowering the cohorts with information on credit, savings plans, and future budgeting, along with providing banking services, will be impactful for them after graduation. This partnership has been a rewarding experience for our own team of volunteer educators as well.

Monique Johnson, SVP, Director of Client and Community Partnerships at Beneficial State Bank

There are many ways to support CROP. You can donate to support their programs. You can volunteer as a mentor or skills volunteer in person or virtually. Employers can learn about becoming a Fair Chance employer and contact CROP to partner on building your talent pipeline.

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