Sam’s Club Joins Walmart-Funded Youth Hiring Program to Prevent the Cycle of Incarceration

July 19, 2022

2 Min. Read
Unlock Potential

BENTONVILLE, Ark., July 19, 2022 Sam’s Club has announced its participation in Unlock Potential, an intentional hiring program designed to provide real career opportunities for young people at the greatest risk of incarceration. Funded by Walmart through the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity, this initiative works with companies to use employment to promote racial equity, disrupt the prison pipeline and inclusively create the next generation of business leaders.

Unlock Potential will focus on the individuals aged 16-24 who are most likely to end up in the prison system: those who have been in the juvenile justice system, experienced sex or human trafficking, had a parent incarcerated before the age of 18, or grown out of foster care.

"We know that at-risk youth have limited opportunities and often find themselves unemployed or out of school, and as a society we have to intervene before it reaches that point,” said Sam’s Club CEO Kathryn McLay. “Programs like this help. We can put young people on a positive path as they begin adult life. And even if they move on after their time with us, we’ve provided them with real-world job and life skills they can take anywhere.”

Walmart's support of Unlock Potential is part of the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity's creation of national networks of community leaders, nonprofits and policymakers focused on kickstarting criminal justice prevention initiatives in communities across the country. The new partnership with Unlock Potential complements Sam’s Club’s existing internship program for high school students in underserved communities, which provides on-the-job training and basic life skills, as well as access to free college education through their Live Better U program. To date, Sam's Club has seen an almost 70% conversion rate for interns moving into full-time roles and they have added more than 300 high school interns to the program this summer.

Through Unlock Potential, companies can help advance racial equity while preventing the devastating – and lifelong – economic consequences of a criminal record. A first-time sentence can decrease lifetime earnings by more than 30 percent. A criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent, and the magnitude of the criminal record penalty is twice as large for Black applicants as for white applicants. Black Americans are currently incarcerated at five times the rate of whites, and Black youth are up to six times as likely as whites to be “opportunity youth” – a term which refers to individuals aged 16-24 who are not in education or employment. By creating career pathways to prevent incarceration, businesses joining Unlock Potential can disrupt intergenerational cycles of poverty.

Sam’s Club joins American Family Insurance, Ben & Jerry’s, and Delta Air Lines in Unlock Potential’s design phase – providing feedback about the structure of the program with input from experts and community-based organizations. Unlock Potential will then launch a 12-month pilot program in October. Placements will be supported by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, one of the co-founders of Unlock Potential with national non-profit Persevere, who will connect participants with local wraparound support services.

More information about the program can be found at unlock-potential.org.