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portrait of Timothy McNutt

Empowering Workers is McNutt’s Focus

Timothy McNutt could be considered a lifelong student of social justice. From an early age, he had a keen interest in people, power structures and the inequalities within them—whether navigating his native city of St. Louis, Missouri, or embarking on a service trip to Honduras. 

McNutt was a George Washington University junior studying in Cape Town when he took the ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment. Inspired by Mandela’s experiences as a lawyer and by the power of law to make real change, McNutt worked after college as a paralegal representing clients in St. Louis City Drug Court advocating for treatment instead of incarceration. During that leg of his career, he learned about public interest law at an Equal Justice Works career fair.

“This is the kind of work I want to do,” McNutt remembers thinking. 

Now director of ILR’s Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative, part of the school’s Center for Applied Research on Work, McNutt enrolled in the California Western School of Law and graduated into a recession. Jobs were scarce, competition was fierce and his plan to become a public defender was derailed. Instead, he became a prosecutor, which he says proved to be excellent experience for his current work: helping justice-impacted individuals obtain jobs after incarceration.

“I underestimated how much discretion a prosecutor has to do good for people, right some wrongs,” McNutt said in an interview. “I could influence how cases were charged, hold police officers accountable, make bail and sentencing recommendations.”

As an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, he conducted long-term investigations. In Nassau County, he served as lead counsel in felony and misdemeanor jury and non-jury trials, and presented cases to the grand jury. 

He worked in the New York State Attorney General’s Office prosecuting financial crimes when fate led him to ILR. He called Esta Bigler for a reference on a paralegal candidate, and a conversation ensued; Bigler mentioned ILR’s records assistance project, part of the legal remedy for plaintiffs in the Gonzalez v. Pritzker class-action case against the U.S. Census Bureau. The project provides criminal record and employment law education to Blacks and Latinos denied employment with the 2010 U.S. Census based on unconfirmed criminal histories.

“I discovered this could be my shot at using my knowledge of the criminal legal system to help reduce the consequences of criminal records,” McNutt said. ”Instead of working within the system, maybe I can help people impacted and use my knowledge and skills to do the work I’ve always wanted to do.”

McNutt has interacted with hundreds of incarcerated and newly paroled people in the past five years to help them access and correct their criminal records, often pocked with errors, and get jobs. He also trains employers in retail, hospitality and other sectors to highlight the benefits of looking beyond applicants' criminal records to evaluate the value they bring to the workplace. 

This year, McNutt broadened the outreach to include the Restorative Record Project, which helps job candidates create non-traditional résumés that highlight core competencies and micro-credentials.

“This new concept emphasizes evidence-based restorative factors that are better predictors of employability as opposed to the current and often biased hiring process and its overreliance on a criminal record and traditional résumé,” McNutt said when the project launched in April. “We view the project as a paradigm shift that also allows employers to make better hiring decisions.”

The tool is free in New York state and California for justice-impacted applicants, companies committed to fair-chance hiring and community organizations with workforce development programs. Rézme, an accompanying app to support justice-involved job candidates, was developed by Stanford graduate and Cornell Prison Education Program alumnus Jodi Anderson Jr., who studied at ILR for two years. 

The Restorative Record Project will also be helpful for other non-traditional workers, including immigrant workers, and people with disabilities, McNutt said, and ILR’s new Center for Applied Research on Work will be in a position to expand the project. 

“We’ve built a successful model that could be replicated and applied to other groups. The center helps build collaborations with others doing work at the school and creates more impact than what one unit can do. With CAROW, I see the potential to expand the work in a way that I didn’t before.”