The county already seeks to award 25% of its contracts to businesses owned by women, minorities and disabled veterans, and last year passed a policy requiring contractors to make a "good faith" effort to hire veterans.
Under the proposal passed unanimously Tuesday, the county will also study giving preference in county contracts to "nonprofit and for-profit social enterprises that have a history of employing men and women recently released from incarceration."
"Research shows that having a job is critical to keeping formerly incarcerated men and women from committing future crimes," Supervisors Hilda Solis and Don Knabe wrote in proposing the initiative. "But the formerly incarcerated face extremely high barriers to employment."
The two supervisors also noted that expanding job opportunities for people convicted of crimes would decrease their reliance on social services and save taxpayers money.
The move was applauded by nonprofit and for-profit businesses that hire ex-offenders.
Kabira Stokes, the chief executive of Isidore Electronics Recycling, a company that employs ex-offenders, called the move "semi-historic" and thanked the supervisors for including for-profit businesses in the proposal as well as nonprofits like Homeboy Industries.
"You shouldn't have to work for a nonprofit," she said. "You should be able to just get a job if you are work-ready."
The county sheriff's deputies union also supported the proposal. Jeff Steck, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said it can "sometimes be frustrating that the same person comes in and out of our facilities." Increasing job opportunities might help stop that cycle, he said.
"It is not enough to provide training and education while the individual is incarcerated," he said. "When they're released, they must find jobs."
The supervisors asked for county staff to report in 90 days on the best way to structure the preference program.