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To Hire Or Not To Hire An Ex-Convict: What Employers Should Consider

by on
in Human Resources

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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. What is your company policy and/or past practice? Always be consistent.

  7. 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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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Pharrel April 19, 2014 at 6:53 am

The recidivism rates for ex convicts is extremely high. So of course, they will not want to hire you for their company positions they are trying to fill. In this very tough job market, when the unemployment is so high, why should an employer hire an ex con, when they can hire someone who never went to prison? If you do not like the hiring practices of refusing to employ ex cons, then do not commit the crime, and you will never have to worry about being turned down for jobs due to your criminal past and victimization of other members of society who know how to function in a society.


Kimberly August 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Dear Yvonne,

My husband is currently obtaining his masters in Drug and Alcohol counseling, and he has a criminal background, but has changed his life around, you would not even think he was the same person, but cannot catch a break anywhere in obtaining employment, but our faith, just as yours is in GOD and you are right, he is the giver of second chances, rather that be here on earth or in heaven with him, a second chance will come.


Yvonne RGV July 28, 2012 at 9:25 am

Wow I feel everyones pain and Fustration!!! I myself am a recovering alcoholic and addict, with 9 yrs of sobriety. I have 2 felonies (controlled substances, less than a gram each and a dwi), I did not go to prison but am treated as if I did, beacuse I can not get a break!! I have my Masters that I recently obtained in May 2012, as a Rehabilitative Counselor and was able to get registered for my License as a Chemical Dependency Counselor, I want to be once again a productive member of society, help the less fortunate that are suffering as I once did!! all my applications have been denied once they see my past criminal history!! but I must continue to keep my Faith Alive in God!! He is the giver of second chances and my Hope is in Him!! God Bless All, Never Loose Your Hope, for the Sun shines again tomorrow!!


derick skiles May 8, 2012 at 10:21 am

I have been trying to go to collage and found it was hard to do what I really want to do. I was in prison for nine and a half years on a ten. I just got off. I was trying to go and learn how to do hair and nails. Say that I could not take my state board test. I think that if you did your time that you should be able to do what you want to. I mean everyone should be given a chance to prove there self. I find this web site helpful and good. Thank you for putting this on. I think everyone should have an open mind. Thank you


anon. February 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm

f.p. wade, I’ve heard this before, esp. in times of high unemployment. Here’s an organization that doesn’t discriminate against ex-felon’s because it’s run by one. http://www.prisonfellowship.org/why-pf/employment-opportunities I think it’s terrible how hard it is for former prisoners, (especially for non-violent crimes and victimless crimes like smoking pot) to get a fresh start after they’ve paid their debt to society and are trying to turn over a new leaf. Don’t give up trying. Here’s one link…I hope there are other organizations that state right in their mission they’re willing to give former prisoners a second chance.
Good luck


f.p.wade February 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm

HYPOCRACY!!! I am a convicted felon. Manufacture of controlled substance (growing marijuana). I did not have a muti-million $, high-tech growing lab, the meter reader noticed less than 10 pot plants growing near my house. All were seedlings less than 8 inches tall. For 21 years, I have not been able to get a decent, steady job, have been denied most professional lisences, can’t vote, can’t hunt, can’t, can’t, can’t,……. It is no wonder that recidivism is so high. Once convicted, always persecuted. Unfortunately, the only jobs that are available to us are illegal. It was my fault the first time, society is to blame for anything else


concerned citizen April 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm

F.P. Wade I’m not sure who told you you couldn’t vote. But unless you are in prison on a fugitive you can and do have the right to vote. I can’t believe there are still people telling EX-offenders they can’t vote. Please go register to vote and do vote it’s your civic duty.


Fat Ma June 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Iwas convicted of Arson in 2010, served 6 months in a detention center and was told that I could not vote for the next 10 yearsbut I see you saying that F.P. Wade (and essentially me) can? How is this?


Gail September 27, 2012 at 12:44 am

I believe the law was changed sometimes in the past few years. It’s pathetic how they keep it a secret. I only know this to be true because I was at a picnic with the former registrar of voters in my town and complained to her that my son can’t vote due to his felony conviction. She said once he was done with his probation he could vote.


Brae April 23, 2013 at 1:35 am

My husband also has the same charge on his record.I agree that the mandatory sentencing laws for such crimes (growing marijuana) should be revisited especially in light of states pushing for the substance to be legalized. I supported my husbands struggle for years. He worked temp jobs, high risk jobs, and was turned down numerous times due to his record for the “good jobs”. He stayed positive and looked for companies that offer a second chance (there are some out there). His efforts proved worth it and he now has a salaried career doing something he enjoys with a company who’s main focus is faith and forgiveness. Stay up, know your rights, and do research on your issue. There are programs available in some states and, no, they are not easily found. YOU CAN VOTE!! Just another common misunderstanding that should’ve been corrected prior to your release. I do not have very much faith in programs offered by state or government non profits, mainly because the people that are supposed to be mentoring aren’t informed enough on the issues or just don’t care enough. Goodluck and don’t give up.


Mantu M. Craven November 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

Good job!


Jeff Hagen October 30, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Keith, clear, great info.


Jeff Hagen October 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Keith, this is clear and great info.


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