313: Changing Lives through a Second Chance, with Karen Lee, Pioneer Human Services
People who were involved in the criminal justice system are more than their labels.
Karen Lee is the Chief Executive Officer of Pioneer Human Services.
She was born during the 1960s civil rights era. “During my lifetime, I’ve seen quite a bit of discrimination. I’ve always wanted to do something about that in a way that was true to me.”
Karen graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. She served our country until the 1990s.
After her military service ended, she attended the University of Washington School of Law, where she received her JD degree. “I wanted to be a civil rights attorney,” Karen explains, “but I found that I liked working with people and leading organizations.”
She took several middle management positions. In 2005, she was asked to serve as the Commissioner for the Washington State Employment Security Division.
“We would get these reports on employment and wages from the labor economists that work there. That’s when I saw the disparity that exists in society today.
“I got a good look at the income gap. What was troubling was that the income gap was most apparent with people who had a negative interaction with the justice system. Black people, indigenous people, and people of color were all at the labor market’s bottom. I wanted to do something about that.”
Karen used her position in the labor department to try several programs. But then, the governor’s term was coming to an end. That’s when she noticed that Pioneer Human Services was looking for a new CEO.
“This particular segment of the population is one that I have often been concerned about because of my race and because I know people that have been involved with the justice system. I have family members that have been involved with the justice system, and they’ve struggled to find employment. And so I’ve wanted to do something about that.”
About Pioneer Human Services
Pioneer Human Services provides counseling, treatment, housing, job skills training, and employment for those involved in the criminal justice system. Pioneer provides career paths and living wage jobs for a population many disregard. Pioneer is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit social-enterprises. Pioneer serves over 10,000 people a year through its diversion, treatment, housing, and job training programs.
Under Karen’s leadership, Pioneer successfully operates several revenue-generating businesses that provide living-wage jobs and help fund its mission.
Learn More About Karen Lee and Pioneer Human Services:
Pioneer Human Services: https://pioneerhumanservices.org