Kelley School of Business Professor Is Studying RecycleForce
Christopher O.L.H. Porter, a professor of management and a Kelley Venture Fellow, is studying RecycleForce, an Indianapolis organization that offers recycling services while employing formerly incarcerated people, in the hopes of helping help them re-enter society.
Porter says it was several years ago when he, new to Indianapolis, stopped by RecycleForce to recycle a TV. He got to talking with the owner and was intrigued.
"Organizations like RecycleForce help keep people out of prison, not only by providing a transitional job, but also by changing the way people think about work," said Porter, whose research interests include leadership, organizational behavior and team dynamics. "Some of these guys said, 'I never want to work. I never want to be one of those people going to a job.' For them to be at a point where they can embrace a job and understand that it's what they have to do, while seeing the benefits of working, I think that's a big deal."
Porter, along with Don Conlon of Michigan State University and Cindy Devers of Texas A&M University, has spent the last several years studying RecycleForce and a number of its employees.
The group's goal is to identify a fine-grain model to show what the re-employment process could look like for ex-offenders working to successfully re-enter society, to help them avoid recidivism.
The team interviewed 80 employees at RecycleForce: 65 temporary employees and 15 who've been hired full time. In addition to lengthy interviews, the researchers conducted an employee survey and collected data about employee history, demographics and risk factors.
The employees were mostly men, about 40 years old. On average, they had 2.5 jobs on their r?sum?. For many, RecycleForce was the first legitimate job they'd had.
"It was a very eye-opening experience," said Porter. "This research has the potential to have a really significant impact in terms of how we think about ex-offenders and the resources we offer them. It will give us a better understanding of the process they experience as they come out of incarceration and try to do the right things so they don't go back to prison."
Porter has a background in criminal justice. He received his master's degree in criminal justice and began a Ph.D. in criminology before moving into business administration.
"As organizational scholars, we don't even think about this population, and I think we've missed an important segment of employees and potential employees simply because so many people have felony convictions," he said. "Whether or not an individual has actually been incarcerated, a felony conviction has implications for hiring. We've learned through our research that a felony conviction can change the tenor of a job interview just like that. It's almost like a switch just flips."
"One of the more interesting things we learned is what happens in the interview when the felony conviction comes up -- that moment when the interviewer's attitudes toward an ex-offender seem to change. The interviewer might become more dismissive or rush through the rest of the interview," Porter said.