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Why hiring people with criminal records encourages true diversity

As many as one in three adults in America has a criminal record, which means a significant swath of the population can find themselves repeatedly passed over for jobs as a result of a charge that may have happened decades ago.

Why hiring people with criminal records encourages true diversity
[Photo: iStock]

When Thedo was released from prison, he assumed he was prepared for his reentry into the outside world. After all, he’d been incarcerated as a teenager and was released as an adult, which meant he had the time to prepare for his release. But the reality of life after prison was something he couldn’t have prepared for, especially when it came to finding a job.

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Thedo didn’t have an ID or a Social Security card, which meant he couldn’t prove to employers he was legally allowed to work in the U.S. His time in prison also meant that he didn’t have a digital footprint, so if employers were to look him up, they’d learn nothing. He didn’t have access to an email or a phone, which meant he couldn’t even be contacted for an interview.

“It’s like, you’re not even a person,” Thedo says. “I didn’t realize I had to start building a person from scratch.”

But even after he began reconstructing himself, there were gaps in his résumé that couldn’t be reconciled. When employers asked about those gaps, Thedo had to explain his time in prison. That abruptly ended the interview.

And it wasn’t even that Thedo was trying for advanced positions. He applied to be a busboy and a street-sweeper and was willing to work labor-heavy jobs. But his background made it impossible to land anything.

Thedo’s story isn’t unusual. As many as one in three adults in America has a criminal record, which means a significant swath of the population can find themselves repeatedly passed over for jobs as a result of a charge that may have happened decades ago. On the other side of the coin, the companies who overlook this population are missing out on employees who have the potential to transform their perspectives and increase their profits. They’re also missing out on great talent. A 2018 study from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 82% of managers and 67% of HR professionals feel that the “quality of fair chance talent” is about the same or higher than that of workers without records.

It goes beyond the immediate benefits to the organization. Providing opportunities to qualified candidates helps build communities and supports society as a whole while putting less strain on already limited resources.

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Employers can help decrease bias

Currently, 17% of white people with a record get called back after a job interview. Compare that to the 5% of African Americans who get called back, and the bias is impossible to ignore. Women have it the hardest. Forty percent of black women, 39% of Hispanic women, and 23% of white women who were previously incarcerated are unemployed, compared to 18% of white men who were previously incarcerated being unemployed. By acknowledging the unfair playing field and giving all applicants an equal chance—especially through diversity and belonging initiatives—employers have a chance to right a systemic wrong.

Jobs decrease recidivism

It costs roughly $100 per day to keep someone incarcerated. Consider that the U.S. accounts for 25% of the world’s incarcerated people, and it’s easy to see why the country spends over $80 billion a year on jails and prisons. Recidivism contributes massively to that number. Eighty-three percent of state prisoners are rearrested within nine years of their release. The number one influence on preventing recidivism is employment. Imagine how much money could be siphoned away from prisons and jails and into education and other worthy causes by simply increasing the number of jobs given to people with criminal records. It would have an astonishing impact on our economy.

Jobs improve communities

If you had no job, how would you make money? Without finding employment, job seekers with criminal records aren’t likely to succeed. But by providing jobs to the formerly incarcerated, employers can provide stability to families and even help make entire neighborhoods safer. A job is a lifeline and a signal to someone with a criminal record that they have intrinsic worth.

There’s a happy ending to Thedo’s story: We hired him. He’s now an immeasurable asset to our team and brings a unique perspective to the challenges we face as a company. Meanwhile, Thedo says that working at Checkr has been transformative for him and has helped him reestablish who he is beyond the stigma of his past experiences.

It’s time companies like yours start adopting fairer hiring practices. The benefits far outweigh the challenges, and at the end of the day, the companies that build their businesses around inclusive practices and get everyone on board will have employees they can count on and a culture that embraces truly diverse candidates.


Margie Lee-Johnson is the vice president of People at Checkr and previously worked with PlayStation and Twitch.

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