Executive Summary


Are you falling behind in the war for talent? Have you ignored a largely untapped labor pool of almost 75 million people, who equate to nearly one-third of adults in the United States? With unemployment below 4 percent, and the GDP losing an estimated $78 billion to $87 billion annually as this group remains unemployed, maintaining outdated employment practices that present significant barriers to the hiring of individuals with criminal records is no longer a viable strategy for organizations.


To be sure, reform is on the way, with the First Step Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in December of 2018. The new law aims to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders in federal prisons and improve programs to reduce recidivism, including workforce readiness. Businesses that are struggling to fill positions in a job market where there are more jobs than applicants can take the next step and include this population in their recruiting efforts.

“The employment of people with criminal records is an issue workplaces should be talking about. I encourage HR professionals to lead conversations about inclusive hiring at their organizations so other executives can make informed, sensible and beneficial hiring decisions.”

— Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP,president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)


The commitment to reduce these barriers to employment produces positive results for individual businesses and the entire nation. Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, states, “The key to reducing recidivism and improving public safety is finding employment for people. If individuals with a criminal record can be considered for employment based on their talent and skills, the benefits for the business — and society — are far-reaching. HR professionals are well positioned to provide counsel and generate a tailored set of best-practice principles that will benefit both the business and the individuals seeking a second chance.”

Most offenders will not serve life sentences, but do we perpetuate their sentences for life by not hiring them?

Hiring Individuals with criminal records Makes it less likely they'll return to prison.


Gone are the days of blanket policies prohibiting the employment of anyone with a criminal record. The EEOC’s long standing position requires employers to conduct an individual assessment on an applicant’s criminal convictions as to their severity, job-relatedness and recency; if there is no relevant risk, the record cannot be used against the applicant without the employer risking a discrimination claim.

But policy and practice aren’t always mirror images. A 2017 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) showed that employers did not call back for an interview:

  • 40 percent of male applicants with a criminal record, and
  • 70 percent of female applicants with a criminal record
    • with 93 percent of black women and 61 percent of Hispanic women less likely to be contacted for an interview or offered a job than white women.

And yet, a nationwide study commissioned by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) in 2018 found that 82 percent of managers and 67 percent of HR professionals believe that the quality of hire for workers with criminal records is about the same or higher than that of workers without records.

So, where’s the disconnect? That report also showed some ambivalence about hiring from within this group, with 41 percent of managers and 47 percent of HR professionals unsure how they felt about hiring individuals with criminal records. Their top-rated concerns were about legal liability, customer reactions and regulations that prohibit or make it difficult to hire individuals with records.


This disconnect is where Getting Talent Back to Work begins – providing HR professionals with the information and tools needed to confidently evaluate applicant criminal records, reduce legal liability and increase inclusive hiring from this untapped labor pool.

Any organization can get started now by using the Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit to focus on:

Reliable Checks

Use our checklist to ensure you’ve partnered with a reliable reporting agency (good decisions start with good data).

Relevant Assessment

Learn how to update practices to ensure individual assessments of criminal records are relevant.

Reasonable Risk

Understand and determine risk to hire more confidently.

About the Toolkit

Each year in the United States, nearly 700,000 men and women are released from prison and re-enter society, where many want to find jobs. Yet despite the growing need among U.S. employers for workers, applicants with a criminal record often face huge obstacles to achieving gainful employment.

As the nation reaches nearly full employment, business leaders and human resources professionals are considering these previously overlooked populations for the first time as a source for workers. In fact, job applicants with criminal records are proving to be a viable workplace solution for many organizations.

While a great deal of uncertainty about hiring workers with criminal records still exists among some senior executives today, a recent study commissioned by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) finds that employees generally are open to working side-by-side with the formerly incarcerated. Just 14 percent of HR professionals and 26 percent of managers are unwilling to work with or hire someone with a criminal conviction  (Figure 1).

While willingness to hire is high, few say their company actively recruits individuals with criminal records. Just 5 percent of managers and 3 percent of HR professionals report this type of recruitment. This is consistent across organizations of different types and sizes.

Companies are understandably concerned about the safety of their workers and customers as well as their own assets and public image. But today, many HR professionals are finding that the best approach to hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds is not so different from the one they use for everyone else: to evaluate each candidate on his or her merits.

That doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind and forgoing background checks. Rather, it’s about giving candidates with criminal backgrounds a chance to be included in the selection process, carefully assessing the nature of their crimes and the time since conviction against the requirements of the job and balancing overall risks against potential rewards.

The SHRM/CKI report found that among both managers and HR professionals, the top reasons for extending job offers to workers with criminal records are hiring the best candidate, giving individuals a second chance, and wanting to make the community a better place, though the weight placed on these factors differs somewhat between the two groups of respondents (Figure 2).

“Our formerly incarcerated employees aren't just 'nonproblems.' They're role models in terms of performance, attendance and teamwork. They have an especially strong incentive to deliver value because they've seen the alternative, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, they deliver.”

— Gretchen Peterson, CHRO, Dave’s Killer Bread

This toolkit can be used by any employer to get talent back to work … today. It provides the information, guidance and tools needed to hire confidently from this untapped labor pool and make an impact.

Q. Why should I hire someone with a record?

Not everyone with a criminal record is a career criminal.  Many people with a record have made a single mistake, and for millions, that mistake was possession of marijuana or driving under the influence. For others, it was shoplifting, passing a bad check or having an argument turn into a fight. When such crimes are not habitual the individual is often more vigilant in remaining on the right side of the law.

Q. Do people with criminal records make good employees?

Many employers have had very positive results from giving people with records a second chance. Johns Hopkins Medicine has hired hundreds of people with records, many for critical jobs involving patient care. When it conducted a multiyear audit of accidents and other major negative events involving employees, it found that not even one had been caused by an employee with a record.

This is not unusual. Other employers have reported that people with records often are so grateful for a chance that they are the most dedicated employees in the company and among those with the best retention rates.


Employers who use criminal records in their hiring decisions need to be aware of applicable federal and state laws. Legal compliance with these laws is key when considering formerly incarcerated applicants for hire.

Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Criminal Background Checks in Employment Decisions?

The following information and tools will help to ensure a compliant process.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Although federal law does not explicitly protect applicants from discrimination based on their criminal records, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does protect against discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance on employers’ use of criminal background checks to address its concern that those checks have an unintended discriminatory impact on particular minority groups.

An employer who adopts a blanket policy of excluding all applicants with an arrest record could face disparate impact liability under federal non-discrimination law if (a) such policy or practice disproportionately affects a protected class and (b) the employer cannot show that the policy or practice is “job related and consistent with business necessity.”

A violation may also occur when an employer treats criminal history information differently for different applicants or employees, based on their race or national origin (disparate treatment liability).

The EEOC’s guidance emphasizes that any denial of employment for an arrest record should be based on an individualized assessment by considering the applicant, the nature of the criminal offenses in his or her history, and how these offenses relate to the performance of a particular job.

Please see the following resources for additional guidance.

Ban the Box

Several state laws and local ordinances limit the use of arrest and conviction records by prospective employers. Commonly referred to as “ban-the-box” laws, these restrictions prohibit the employer from asking an applicant any questions about criminal records on the employment application or early in the screening process. Other state laws restrict the employer’s use of arrest or conviction data in making an employment decision, except in limited circumstances, or the laws may require that criminal history questions be asked only after an offer of employment has been made. Employers should investigate any state or local laws prior to asking about an applicant’s criminal history.

Although there is no federal prohibition on asking applicants about criminal history on an employment application, the EEOC states, “As a best practice, and consistent with applicable laws, the Commission recommends that employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when they make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Even when state laws do not restrict employers from asking about criminal history early in the hiring process, many employers have voluntarily removed the question from their applications and moved such inquiries to the end of the hiring process. Walmart voluntarily removed the “box” in 2010, Google in 2011 and the Charles Koch Institute in 2015. Voluntarily banning the box not only sets a tone with applicants and lets them know that fair-chance hiring practices are in place, it also ensures legal compliance as ban-the-box laws continue to spread.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs how employers obtain and handle consumer reports, which include criminal history background checks. When an employer uses a third party to conduct background checks, the employer must advise the applicant or employee in writing that a background check will be conducted and obtain the individual’s written authorization to obtain the records. Certain other disclosures are required upon the applicant or employee’s request and prior to the employer’s taking any adverse action based on the reports obtained. Employers must also comply with state and local laws regarding the use of consumer reports.

Use our FCRA Compliance Checklist to ensure compliance with the requirements of the FCRA.

Background Check Providers

Making an informed decision regarding a job applicant with a criminal record starts with having an accurate report. Therefore, employers must evaluate prospective providers, known as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), to ensure a quality supplier.

Conducting a criminal background check is far more difficult than it may appear, and not all CRAs offer reliable reports. Mistakes by CRAs can result in liability for the employer under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and can lead employers to turn down highly qualified applicants or hire applicants they would not have hired based on an accurate report.

This Selecting a Reliable Background Checking Company checklist can be used by employers to assess the quality standards of prospective CRAs to determine if they will provide reliable reports. Additionally, SHRM’s Guide to Background Screening Systems can be used to research and compare providers.

Interviewing & Assessment


HR professionals and hiring managers frequently ask, “Should we interview applicants with criminal records differently than candidates without a record?” The answer is no. Interviews should be equal and fair assessments, and the basic structure should not vary between candidates. Formerly incarcerated applicants are people—looking to be employed, functioning members of our society, with strengths and weaknesses just like any other candidate.

“These are human beings who are finding ways to be resilient—to transform their lives and to reimagine who they’ll be when they come home from prison or jail.“

— Jasmine Heiss, former director of coalitions and outreach with the Coalition for Public Safety (CPS)

“In my experience, people with criminal records are often model employees. They are frequently the most dedicated and conscientious. A lot of doors are shut to them, so when someone gives them an opportunity, they make the most of it.”

— a restaurant executive who employs hundreds of workers in Ohio and Florida

“Of all the groups we targeted, people with criminal records turned out to be the best employees, in part because they usually have a desire to create a better life for themselves … and are often highly motivated.“

— Denver-based telecommunications company founder

Some criminal history may come to light during the interview process, whether volunteered by the applicant or given in response to questions about gaps in his or her employment history. Where state laws allow, employers may ask relevant, job-related questions to assess the applicant’s honesty and sense of accountability and to better understand the circumstances and nature of the crime. These questions will be part of the individual assessment discussed later in this guide.

During any interview, making a connection with applicants who are more like us is common as we find him or her easy to engage with and feel comfortable around. But it’s a slippery slope toward unlawful discrimination when we consistently reject those less like us, and the formerly incarcerated may seem foreign to many HR professionals and hiring managers. They should continually remind themselves to focus on the applicants’ skills and abilities to assess who the best overall candidate is and not who they might prefer to grab a coffee with.

Additionally, don’t generalize or make assumptions about the skills and experience these individuals may have. Employers often assume that a new hire who has spent time behind bars will require extensive training to acquire common workplace skills. According to data from the Department of Justice, however, more than one-third of incarcerated citizens have at least a high school diploma. In order to meet parole requirements, many individuals are regularly drug-tested and closely supervised by their parole offices and have to observe curfews. In short, these candidates may demonstrate more reliability and accountability than similarly skilled peers in the general population.

The following resources give general guidance on the interview process.


Employers must ensure that any selection tests are reliable and valid, yielding consistent results that predict success on the job. If not, discrimination claims are an increased risk. A background check is considered a selection test. The EEOC’s Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures detail how the EEOC will evaluate a testing method called into question; the agency offers additional guidance in its Employment Tests and Selection Procedures fact sheet. States may have individual requirements and guidelines for those working in that state.

The guidelines state that discriminatory practices exist when a selection test has an adverse impact on the employment opportunities of a race, sex or ethnic group. Adverse impact refers to employment practices that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on a protected group.

As minority men and women are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts, race and ethnicity discrimination could arise when background assessments are conducted without evidence of validity or a basis in job relatedness. Consulting with an attorney before implementing any selection method is advised.

The following resources contain general information on applicant screening and selection.

Screening Guidance

The EEOC’s long-standing position that criminal records may be used in hiring decisions only when the conviction is job related and consistent with business necessity was formalized in its 2012 Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The guidance provides that there are two circumstances in which the commission believes that employers will consistently meet the “job related and consistent with business necessity” defense:

  • The employer validates the criminal conduct screen for the position in question, according to the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures standards, if data about criminal conduct as related to subsequent work performance are available and such validation is possible.
  • The employer develops a targeted screen considering at least the nature of the crime, the time elapsed and the nature of the job, and then provides an individualized assessment for people excluded by the screen to determine whether the exclusion as applied is job related and consistent with business necessity.

Since the first option can be an arduous task, most employers opt for some version of the second option. This would include the development of a screen and applying it to assess the risk of hiring an applicant for which the employer considers:

  • The nature of the job held or sought.
  • The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct.
  • The length of time that has passed since the offense, conduct and/or completion of the sentence.

Per the EEOC, the individualized assessment would then include:

  • A notice to the person that he or she has been screened out because of a criminal conviction.
  • An opportunity for the individual to demonstrate that the exclusion should not be applied because of his or her particular circumstances.

The following should be helpful when developing targeted screens that meet the standard of being job related and consistent with business necessity.

Determine the nature of the job held or sought

Describing the nature of the job helps when assessing whether the criminal conduct relates to successful performance on the job and is consistent with business necessity. This description would include:

  • The basic duties of the job (e.g., data entry, lifting boxes).
  • The essential functions of the job (e.g., processing mortgage loans, piloting an aircraft).
  • The circumstances under which the job is performed (e.g., the level of supervision, oversight and interaction with co-workers or vulnerable individuals).
  • The environment in which the job is performed (e.g., outdoors, in a warehouse, in a private home).

An up-to-date job description will be a key component of an accurate assessment. Many job duties change over time, so it’s worth the time to ensure that the current duties of the job, regardless of job title, are reflected in the job description.

Determine the nature and gravity of the offense

Not all criminal convictions represent serious misconduct. Some offenses, such as disorderly conduct, motor vehicle offenses (other than DUI), and public indecency (often the result of public urination) are minor and of little relevance to employers.

Considerations for the targeted screen might include:

  • The type of harm caused by the crime (e.g., property loss caused by theft).
  • The elements of the crime (e.g., deception, threat or intimidation involved in a theft).
  • That misdemeanors may be less severe than felonies.

Note: Unlike a conviction, an arrest is not reliable evidence that an applicant has committed a crime. Thus, an exclusion based on an arrest record is justified only if the case is still pending, the conduct appears to be job related and relatively recent, and if the employer has reason to believe the applicant or employee engaged in the conduct for which he or she was arrested (such as the existence of security-camera footage that has been released to the public). Additionally, some states may not allow any arrest records to be used in such an assessment.

Evaluate the length of time since the offense or conduct

A person with a conviction does not represent a risk forever. The longer someone with a conviction goes without a new conviction, the less likely he or she will commit a new offense. Eventually, the risk becomes comparable to the risk presented by a person with no criminal record. In general, the risk that someone with a record will commit a new offense after five years is only about 1 percent to 2 percent greater than the same risk presented by someone without a record.

The acceptable length of time since the offense is typically set by employer policy. While no specific time frames are endorsed by the EEOC, blanket policies banning the hiring of anyone with a criminal record would not be allowable. Instead, it is suggested employers research recidivism rates (and their decline over a specified time) related to the type of conviction, including local and national data, and determine a time frame that reasonably relates to that data. This type of data often shows risk declines within 3 to 10 years depending upon conviction type.

See the following resources for more guidance. See state and local justice department websites for state specific information.

Individual Assessment

The applicant may reveal during the individual assessment that he or she was not identified correctly in the criminal record or that the record is otherwise inaccurate. Other relevant individualized evidence to consider is included in Criminal Record Risk Factor Assessment Checklist.

Risk Analysis

All hiring decisions involve risk―even the strongest applicants sometimes fail to become strong employees. And not all convictions pose a significant risk on all jobs. The threshold question is whether the job in question presents an opportunity for the type of conduct involved in the conviction.

Considerations in your risk analysis would include the following:

Does the conviction pose a job-related risk?

In some cases, this is very straightforward. A DUI/DWI conviction, for example, indicates a risk for jobs involving operating a motor vehicle. For other jobs, this poses no risk. Theft convictions are relevant for jobs that involve unsupervised access to cash or property that can be sold for cash. Convictions for crimes of violence are generally a concern for jobs that involve unsupervised access to vulnerable populations, such as children, seniors, women, hospital patients and others who have a reduced ability to protect themselves physically.

Other types of offenses are more complex. Possession of controlled substances raises different risks depending upon the drug involved. Relatively recent possession for “hard” drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, indicates that the applicant may be addicted, which is a potential problem in any job. Possession of marijuana does not carry a similar risk but may still present legitimate concerns for safety-sensitive positions. Convictions for the sale of controlled substances are a risk factor in jobs involving access to controlled substances.

How serious is the prior offense?

The name of the offense reveals little about how serious it was. Theft can mean anything from shoplifting a low-cost item to stealing a million dollars. Assault can be getting into a shoving match after a traffic accident to attacking someone with a weapon and causing serious bodily injury. Selling drugs can refer to a large-scale distribution operation or selling a small amount of marijuana to another student in a college dormitory.

Employers can learn more about the conduct involved in the prior offense from the charge sheet (known as a complaint in some jurisdictions). This generally contains a brief description of the conduct that gave rise to the arrest. The charge sheet is part of the public record, which the employer can obtain through a consumer reporting agency. Charges frequently contain indications of the severity of the offense. For example, some jurisdictions divide assault into “simple assault” and “aggravated assault.” A person with experience in the criminal justice system can often provide insight into the nature of the offense from these distinctions. In some cases, employers may be able to get information about underlying conduct from a probation or parole officer, a prosecuting or defense attorney, or the applicant.

How many prior convictions?

Most people have done something in their lives for which they could have been arrested—perhaps driving while intoxicated or getting caught in a brawl outside the stadium of a losing team. The difference between someone with a single prior conviction and someone with no record is often just luck. In such cases, the risk of a new arrest is relatively low. Two or more prior convictions are a red flag that requires more careful analysis.

How serious is the potential harm?

The potential harm from misconduct by an employee with a criminal record varies from company to company. This is especially true for property crimes. The potential harm from a dishonest employee in a convenience store is much less than the potential harm from one in a jewelry store or a financial institution.

Additionally, a new arrest is not necessarily a problem for the employer. In many cases, neither the employer nor its employees are the victims of the new offense. In these situations, the employer is harmed by the new arrest only if the employee is incarcerated.

Has the applicant been referred by an established re-entry organization?

There is little or no risk when the applicant comes from an established re-entry organization with a strong history of successfully placing clients with employers. Some examples include:

Cara (Chicago, IL)

Chrysalis (Los Angeles, CA)

Hope for Prisoners (Las Vegas, NV)

Per Scholas (Atlanta, GA; Cincinnati and Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; Washington, DC; New York, NY)

Prison Entrepreneurship Program (Houston and Dallas, TX)

Thistle Farms (Nashville, TN)

Twin Cities R!se (Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN)

Has the applicant been bonded under a federal, state or local bonding program? Such organizations have great expertise in determining whether a candidate is job-ready. They also know that serious misconduct by a client would damage their ability to place other clients. This gives them an incentive to be extremely careful in recommending a client to an employer.

Has the applicant changed or been reformed?

People are not the same; some people learn from their mistakes, and others do not. While accurately assessing the level of reform someone may have achieved is beyond most of our abilities, taking the time to consider that the applicant may have changed is worthwhile.

Successful work experience after a conviction is a strong indicator that someone with a record has changed. Even if the person is not currently employed, the fact that the applicant worked successfully after the conviction suggests a positive change.

Rehabilitation efforts after the offense, such as participation in education and training programs, or continuation in a 12-step program (and acting as a sponsor), are additional signs that someone has made a change.

Finally, rehabilitation involves an internal change. People stop rationalizing their misconduct and accept responsibility for it. Their “internal narrative” changes. Of course, a person seeking a job knows the narrative an employer wants to hear. But it is difficult to fake a sense of responsibility, and an employer who listens carefully can often sense when this happens.


There is an array of insurance products for businesses that protect against various types of liability. One, the fidelity bond, exists to protect a business and its customers from monetary theft perpetrated by an employee or independent contractor engaged by the employer. One of the oldest forms of insurance, a fidelity bond must be purchased before a business license is issued in many states.

A fidelity bond typically covers monetary and asset losses that occur when an employee commits forgery, embezzlement, identity theft, securities fraud and other forms of theft. Long-standing insurance practices excluded employees with prior theft convictions from coverage, giving employers a reason to shy away from hiring them.

But changes are underway, and brokers and underwriters understand that employers cannot categorically refuse to hire people with a criminal record without risking a discrimination claim; therefore, fidelity bond coverage must meet that need.

Employers should educate their broker on the policies and practices in place to reduce hiring risks, such as screens and individual assessments, and orientation and mentoring programs. When a broker has evidence of how employment decisions are made regarding people with criminal records, and how orientation and other programs create an organizational culture in which employees know what is expected of them, they can take that information to underwriters to advocate for a fair and inclusive policy.

Negligent Hiring

Some employers are concerned that hiring people with criminal records may lead to liability for negligent hiring.

While this is a legitimate concern and should not be overlooked, the risk of liability is often less than is commonly assumed. Relatively few negligent-hiring cases are filed, and many experienced corporate employment lawyers have never handled a negligent-hiring case. Most employers have never been sued on this ground.

More importantly, negligent hiring liability typically arises in only a handful of specific types of jobs with clear and obvious risks.

Employer liability is generally not established just because the job involves one of the enumerated risks described below. In addition, the nature of the prior misconduct must make the ultimate harm foreseeable. For example, in cases when an employee hurts a member of a vulnerable population, the employer is liable only when the prior offense involved a crime of violence. There are, however, rare cases in which a court found an employer liable for employee violence based on nonviolent prior convictions involving drugs.

Additionally, it is not necessary for these elements to be the predominant part of the job—or even a regular part of the job—to determine liability should an incident occur. But they must be part of the job. For example, a court held an employer liable for the conduct of a hotel food-service worker whose work involved unsupervised movement throughout the hotel, which would sometimes bring him into contact with unaccompanied children. But a job in a warehouse did not involve contact with people outside the warehouse, and the employer was not responsible when someone outside was lured inside by an employee and harmed.

If none of the following elements are involved in the job, liability for negligent hiring is not a significant risk.

Jobs with access to valuables:

  1. Cash or property that can be easily converted to cash.
  2. Property that can be easily stolen.
  3. Property belonging to third parties such as co-employees or customers.

Jobs with unaccompanied access to vulnerable populations:

  1. Minors, the elderly, women, hospital patients and others who have reduced ability to protect themselves
  2. Under circumstances where others are not likely to provide protection, such as in a customer’s home.

Jobs that require the use of dangerous implements:

The job involves the use of firearms, knives or other items that are clearly capable of causing serious injuries if not handled correctly.

Jobs requiring the operation of a motor vehicle:

This includes indoor vehicles and other vehicles for which no driver’s license is required.

Jobs that involve liquor:

This includes bars and other establishments with easy access to liquor.


Cases in which employers engaged in this type of analysis and were still found liable for negligent hiring are very few. In most cases where liability was found, the employer did not even run a criminal record check. Consistent use of screens and individual assessments are key to a successful defense strategy.

Absolute freedom from risk of liability does not exist. But employers who make informed judgment calls regarding applicants with records should not fear negligent hiring liability.

Incentives & Support

Programs at nearly every level of government offer financial incentives for organizations that hire people re-entering the community after serving prison time.

The U.S. Department of Labor offers the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to organizations that hire ex-felons within a year of their being convicted or released from prison. It is a credit against the first and second year’s wages paid to qualified employees.

The department’s Federal Bonding Program provides fidelity bonds for at-risk, hard-to-place job seekers for the first six months of employment at no charge to the employer. Each bond has a $5,000 limit with no deductible.

Many states and municipalities have workforce development programs whose missions revolve around training and supporting people with criminal histories as they transition back into the general population. If an employer requires niche skills or needs to hire in volume, these organizations can help it connect with the right candidates. Many of the programs even provide training so new hires will have needed skills before they start the job.

Local community and faith-based organizations also offer re-entry programs that help with housing and transportation, along with employment-related services.

Meet the Convicts Who Code

Read the whole story here.

Culture & Communication

Organizations must embody their values from the top down. Policies and practices must be representative of the employer’s commitment to hiring the most-qualified candidates in a fair and consistent manner.

Employers with one-size-fits-all onboarding and orientation programs may wish to consider individualizing these processes for formerly incarcerated job candidates. Returning to the working world can be a shock, and more time to acclimate and assistance from a buddy system would be beneficial. Available training and development programs would be key to highlight for this population.

“I hadn’t realized the pace of life out here would affect me so much—it’s really fast. Coming from no movement—no cars, no trains—even the colors [in prison] are limited. It was just a weird feeling. Being around all the movement and having to work all day and come home [was a difficult adjustment].”

- Steve Lacerda,former inmate of San Quentin State Prison

Employee communications should be honest and transparent. Sharing your hiring philosophy with employees and providing an avenue for them to ask questions will help allay fears and concerns and assimilate their commitment into the culture.

Ongoing training for HR departments and hiring managers should encompass knowledge of discrimination laws, consistent and fair hiring practices, and concrete messaging regarding their part in supporting the organization’s commitment to second-chance hiring. The employer is relying on the hiring team to make the goal a reality and should infuse its communications with that sense of responsibility and the impact being made.

Culture changes over time. Committing to a fair-hiring initiative is a sensitive enough issue that even companies included on lists of “offender-friendly” employers are often reluctant to discuss their staffing practices for fear of alienating customers or damaging their public image.

But that reluctance is not warranted. Greyston Bakery, a small business based in Yonkers, N.Y., has a unique “open hiring” method, filling open positions with no questions asked. About 65 percent of the $20 million company’s current workforce was formerly incarcerated. In an Inc. magazine interview, CEO Mike Brady referred to them as “fully functional and productive members of our team” and adds, “Our history is a demonstration that people coming out of the criminal justice system make for an amazing workforce.”

MOD Pizza embraces what it calls “impact hiring” by taking steps to hire people with backgrounds of incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction or mental disability. MOD has grown from five stores in Washington state to 380 stores across 28 states and the United Kingdom. With 2017 sales hitting $275 million, MOD was named the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the U.S. by research firm Technomic.

Further Involvement

Executives can further their involvement by supporting fair-chance licensing regulation reform. More than 25 percent of U.S. jobs require a license or certification, and each state has an average of 56 occupational and 43 business licensing laws with mandatory restrictions for people with felony convictions. See Fair Chance Licensing Reform.

Extend your reach—engage with other organizations with which you have significant relationships to further the discussion and increase your impact.

The following resources provide general information on culture and communications.