According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), each year more than 650,000 men and women are released from federal and state prisons and return to their communities and families. But do they return to productive employment? Unfortunately, too often the answer is no.
It is estimated that unemployment rates among ex-prisoners are between 25-40%. Experts agree that these high unemployment rates are a key factor in recidivism; the one-year post-release recidivism rate is 44%.
On the one hand, you might feel that these ex-convicts have paid their debt to society and arguably deserve a second chance. However, you also realize that you have a responsibility to protect your business, your other employees, and your customers, and that you could be held liable for negligent hiring if things go awry post-hire.
Do your state or local laws prevent the consideration of certain convictions? Some states expressly prohibit employers from hiring ex-offenders if the job and the crime are directly related, such as hiring a convicted sex offender for a child care position.
Do industry regulations restrict employing ex-offenders who have committed certain crimes? The banking industry, for example, prohibits the employment of individuals who have been convicted of financial fraud.
How relevant is the conviction to the job? Think of the crime as it relates to the core job duties. Deciding not to hire a convicted bank robber for a job as a payroll clerk is probably more defensible than deciding not to hire a convicted bank robber for a job as a gardener, for example.
How long ago did the conviction occur? In general, the more recent the conviction is, the firmer the legal ground you stand on in not extending a job offer.
What rehabilitation has the applicant been through, if any? An applicant with an alcohol-or drug-related conviction who has successfully completed a substance abuse program may have a strong argument that he has put his troubles behind him, unlike one who has not undergone any rehab.
What is your company policy and/or past practice? Always be consistent.
What does your liability insurance policy say about hiring people with criminal backgrounds? How are you bonded? Check with your legal department.
Pros To Hiring Ex-Cons
Remember not to panic unnecessarily at the prospect of hiring someone with a less than sterling past. Employers who have a history of hiring ex-convicts insist that, generally speaking, ex-convicts can make exceptionally dedicated and motivated employees who are grateful that their employer has taken a chance on them. Many have had hands-on vocational training while incarcerated.
Also, be aware that the U.S. government provides many benefits to companies who actively seek to hire ex-convicts. Some examples:
Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC): Gives an immediate contribution to an employer's "bottom line" by providing eligible employers with a federal tax credit for hiring an ex-offender.
Job Training Partnership Act: Can reimburse some training wages; offers additional services that vary by state.
Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI): Awards grants to employment-centered organizations that provide mentoring, job training, and other transitional services for ex-offenders.
In addition, some states offer a free service that provides individual fidelity bonds to employers for job applicants with a conviction record. State reentry resources can be found online at http://www.reentryresources.ncjrs.gov.
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