3 Strategies to Promote Workplace Re-Entry for Ex-Offenders
January 17, 2014
For quite some time now, I’ve felt the organizations that support the formerly incarcerated have done a disservice to ex-offenders when it comes to their stance on employment background checks. Rather than educating ex-offenders about the reality of criminal background checks and how to prepare for the tough questions from employers that are sure to come and educating employers about the benefits of hiring ex-offenders, organizations such as The National Employment Law Project (NELP) and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) have spent far too much time focusing on what they can do to eliminate the practice altogether.
In doing so, they continually point to statistics that they should know are misleading. The best example of this is NELP’s assertion that the 65 million Americans with criminal records are unemployable due to their convictions. If this were true, employers wouldn’t be able to hire anyone. EmployeeScreenIQ data shows that less than 10% of those with criminal records are actually eliminated from employment when a background check reveals a conviction. Based on our experience, the number of unemployed ex-offenders is widely exaggerated.
I don’t pretend to ignore the fact that some employers have enacted unfair hiring criteria when it comes to those with criminal records, but it is important to acknowledge the public safety and risk management benefits society receives as a result of this practice.
Here are my top 3 strategies to really promote re-entry into the workplace
1. They need to spend time educating ex-offenders about what they can do to prepare themselves for the process. U.S. News and World Report columnist, Jada Graves recently wrote what I consider to be the best career advice geared towards those with criminal records I have seen. It doesn’t sugar coat the issue and provides candidates a simple road map to follow. It encourages candidates to set reasonable expectations for the jobs that might be out there, cautions them not to lie about their past and suggests that they study their consumer rights. If you haven’t read this article yet, I would encourage you to do so. To me, this should be required reading for all ex-offenders and the organizations that support them and should be used to develop training and assistance programs.
2. Rather than focus on misleading information such as the example I showed above, run with the issue that allows you to take the high ground: Accuracy. Every time I read Broken Records: How Errors by Criminal Background Checking Companies Harm Workers and Businesses, a study conducted by the NCLC I find myself applauding their efforts to highlight their concerns over inaccurate background checks, while at the same time cringing over their gross over-generalizations about the fact that all background screening companies knowingly report unverified data. The NCLC highlights instances of reporting false positives, sealed or expunged information, multiple ledgers for the same offense, etc. Unfortunately, there are some companies that routinely engage in these practices but they are the exception, not the rule. I strongly support their efforts to hold those offenders accountable for failing to adopt reasonable procedures to avoid inaccurate information. That’s a real problem and is unfair to anyone who has fallen victim to inaccurate data; ex-offender or not. But let’s not paint the picture that all background screening companies have no regard for accuracy.
3. Develop studies that highlight the benefits of hiring ex-offenders. To be sure, not everyone with a criminal record will qualify for every job, but show employers what they might gain by taking a chance. Looking at retention rates, recidivism, tax credits, etc. If groups like NELP and NCLC would work hand in hand with the employer community, they would accomplish so much more for their constituents than they do by waging war on background checks.
By taking these steps, I think that ex-offender advocacy stands a much better chance of making a real impact on the lives of those with criminal records and being a reliable voice in the eyes of the public and the media.