Nov 1, 2018 · 5 min read

Building Opportunity for People with Histories of Incarceration


Pablo Gaxiola walked out of prison in 2014, after being in and out of the system for 15 years. He left with his personal belongings and a felony record that would loom heavy over his life – and his hopes for a fresh start.

“Having felonies caused me to not get jobs. I’d get a job offer, pending the background check, and my heart would drop.”

Today, between 70 and 100 million Americans have a criminal record of some kind. Like Pablo, many of these individuals are systematically disadvantaged in seeking things like employment, housing, public benefits, financial aid, or a license to practice one’s trade or profession. Unfortunately, these barriers persist long after people have paid their debts to society, and foreclose people from accessing the very resources that will help them effectively rejoin the community. There is also ample evidence that these barriers especially burden our poorest communities and communities of color.

At the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, our work in Justice & Opportunity focuses on reducing barriers to opportunity, whether it’s reimagining systems so that they’re designed around the needs of those they serve, or using technology to help more people reach their potential. Because a criminal record is a powerful and intractable barrier to opportunity in America today, creating fair chances for people impacted by the criminal justice system is a top priority at CZI.

Through a new partnership with REDF, we’re supporting efforts to get more people sustainably employed after incarceration.

Founded in 1997, REDF (The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) is a unique venture philanthropy that supports employment-focused social enterprises across the country. For people with histories of incarceration, REDF’s partners provide the paying jobs and services they need to stabilize their lives, develop a work history, and build skills and confidence. To date, REDF’s partners have earned over $603 million in revenue and employed over 31,000 people (and counting).

With our support, REDF will work toward its goal of helping 50,000 people overcome employment barriers by 2020 – through jobs and training – 70% of whom will be returning to their communities after incarceration.

“CZI is committed to safely reducing the number of people we incarcerate in the United States,” said Ana Zamora, Criminal Justice Manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “A critical piece of achieving this goal is ensuring that the thousands of people being released from prison each year after serving their time can find good, stable jobs. REDF’s model leads to the direct employment of formerly incarcerated people and is helping industries across the U.S. see the value of investing in this population.”

“For more than 20 years REDF has been investing in and advising social enterprises around the country that empower people overcoming high barriers to employment – including those returning from incarceration – with the paying jobs, training, and support they need to succeed,” said Carla Javits, REDF President & CEO. “CZI’s generous support signals to others seeking a strong social return on investment the value of this evidence-based model, and the role it plays in building a more just and inclusive economy.”

With help from REDF, Pablo joined the New Opportunity Work Program (NOW) at Goodwill Silicon Valley, one of the social enterprises REDF has invested in since 2014.  Today, he manages the operations of the NOW program to help Goodwill participants transition from incarceration to employment, and is also an advisor to local governments working on justice reform.

“Second chances can make the biggest impact on someone’s life. But first you have to stop looking at what people have done and start looking at what they can do.” – Pablo Gaxiola


About REDF
REDF (the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) is a pioneering venture philanthropy galvanizing a national movement of social enterprises—purpose-driven, revenue-generating businesses that help people striving to overcome employment barriers get jobs, keep jobs, and build a better life. For people with histories of incarceration, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, and young people who are not in school or working, social enterprises provide the paying jobs and services they need to stabilize their lives, develop a work history, and build skills and confidence. Since 1997, REDF has invested in 147 social enterprises in 23 states. To date, those businesses have earned over $603 million in revenue and employed over 31,000 people (and counting). For more information, follow REDF @REDFworks or visit

About CZI’s Criminal Justice Reform Program:
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s criminal justice program focuses on redesigning our justice system with community health and safety at its core, and with those directly impacted – presently and formerly incarcerated persons, crime survivors, law enforcement, families, and communities — at the helm of its transformation. We support organizations across the country and across traditional political divides doing bold work in criminal justice, such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which fights for smart bipartisan sentencing laws; Fair and Just Prosecution, which brings together newly-elected local prosecutors committed to promoting a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility; JustLeadershipUSA, which organizes formerly incarcerated individuals to advocate for reform; and the Alliance for Safety and Justice, which brings together crime survivors to advance criminal justice reform policies. We also partner with organizations using technology in new ways to drive change, like Measures for Justice, an organization that has built an online portal to measure county-by-county criminal justice data around the United States. Our criminal justice work currently focuses on three main areas: transforming prosecution; building opportunity for people impacted by the justice system; and growing the justice reform movement, and is part of our Justice & Opportunity Initiative.

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