Job Fair for Convicted Felons

Nick Fishman

I feel like I write the following statement (or similar sentiments) a lot when talking about about the prospect of hiring those with criminal records, particularly those with felony convictions, here I go again.

True, some convictions prevent individuals from working in certain positions.  True, some of the most heinous offenders are unemployable.  True, those who hide or lie about their past are of concern to prospective employers.  True, people can successfully rehabilitate.  True, it is not the job of background screeners to prevent people from getting jobs.  We simply report the information that we find and let employers make informed hiring decisions.

Why the soliloquy? CNN just reported about a job fair for convicted felons in Houston and I find myself applauding the efforts of the organizers and for the 3,000 people who attended in search of gainful employment.  People often question how we can get behind efforts like this and I go into the rationale I conveyed above.  Criminal recidivism rates are a serious societal problem.  They soar when those released from prison can’t find jobs.  Therefore, when those with criminal records are honest about their past, vow not to repeat their mistakes and decide to get a job, I’m all for it.  BTW, even employers that knowingly hire convicted felons should still conduct employment background checks.

People Line Up at Job Fair for Convicted Felons

(CNN) — More than 3,000 people turned out in downtown Houston, Texas, Wednesday for a job fair designed for convicted felons.

Organizers of the Road to Re-entry Employment Fair, created to help those with criminal records find work and reintegrate into society, had expected a few hundred job people. The line of job seekers, which ran for a few blocks and tied up traffic, as reported by CNN affiliate KHOU, took the planners by surprise.

“These were not individuals trying to get concert tickets or a free dinner,” said Jarvis Johnson, a Houston City Council member who helped sponsor the inaugural event. “They were individuals who were waiting in line because they want to be productive members of society.”

Lavell Byrd was just one of the people who came out in search of work. He told KHOU that he hadn’t had a full-time position since December.

“I’m an ex-con, and that’s the main thing that’s holding me back,” Byrd said to KHOU. “It’s a very, very, very hard thing that people still look at what you did in the past and not what you can do in the future.”

Giving people like Byrd a chance to succeed and be a productive part of the work force is in the interest of all of us, said council member Johnson. If ex-criminals can’t findjobs, they’re more likely to land back in prison, he said.

“They made a mistake, but they’ve paid their debt to society,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all going to pay if we don’t open the doors of opportunity — whether we become the victims [of future crimes] or we have to use our tax dollars to imprison them.”

And according to the Road to Re-Entry Web site, there are incentives in place to make hiring ex-offenders more appealing to employers. For one, the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit gives tax credits to those who open their doors to those with criminal records.

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Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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  • Name Joseph

    We tend to “label” or put people in “boxes” .IF a felon serves their time with good behavior and schooling to re-enter society,why not expunge their record and give them a chance one more time? with the job situation now they have NO chance when competing with with so called honest people who just never got caught in crimes they committed.I understand that certain felons may be an exception.You are just going to have them return to a life of crime in order to survive.We then all lose. Why have the tag”felon” follow them for the rest of their lives? By the way,I put hundreds of them in prison and jails in a 20 year career as a private DA,bodyguard,securiity /specialist.

  • Thank those responsible for raising this issue. I was convicted of a felony back in 1978 & served 11months in state prison (drug related ‘conspiracy’). After release I found an entry level job at a fortune 500 co. rose to management in record time, earned my Bachelor’s degree by taking night classes at a top state college, served on the board of directors for the United Way for 8yrs (overseeing the allocation commitee responsible for distributing 1.8 mill. Got married in 1980 had twins at age 39 after 6 miscarriages. Left corp firm to run my husbands successful family business since he developed muscular dystrophy. Then came 911 & Homeland Security Act. No problem until I lost my husband to cancer in 2005 & with 2 15yr olds needing my parental attention, I sold the business. Unfortunately, I did too much ‘grief spending & lost lots in the market 2yrs ago. Now I can’t get any work due to new rules since 911. I respect the act but it has me now applying for food stamps & energy assistance. I’m 61 w/ only $1600 coming in from my husbands SSI and a small pension I was forced to take early out of need. My twins are juniors in college in NJ & one in NY. They are deans List students who I can no longer help w/ any of their non-emotional needs. Itmakes me so depressed that my wonderful kids who have a rare medical disorder (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) have to deal w/life w/o dad, $ help fro me, & undetermined levels of pain. My son recently told his disorder has kept him now from playing any sports. He even said he’s doing everything he can to stay healthy because he knows I don’t have enough $ to bury him if he died!! Oh the sad pain of that truth!!! All because I made a bad decision 32 yrs ago!!! Please help us who paid the penalty of our mistakes & need jobs. I even offered to volunteer at my church (for nursury help) & at a senior center to help the elderly. I was declined because in NJ you don’t qualify if you have a felony record. I tried to get an exspongement yrs ago, but ‘conspiracy’ can’t be exsponged…I think since 911. I’m trying to start a new unique business but need $ and other help that holds long term possiblities, but the only answer I see to help my kids w/ living and college, including med school in18 mons, is to hope the Lord takes me home & the children will be helped by what’s left of my life ins policies & the minimal equity in my home…providing I don’t loose that.
    I’ve cut my expenses dramatically, but w/ $1511 total monthly income & my taxes & mortgage being $989 and BCBS choking me for $679 a month, you can see I can’t pay for my needed meds (heart, lung and RA) I’ve been selling anything I have of value and I borrow from everyone just to get SOME of my life saving meds. Oh Lord please help me if my country can’t recognize & help this group of people caught in ‘no win’situation. It’s clear that more financially driven crimes become a must for some….and death for the others.
    Again, whoever this reaches, you will breath new life & hope back into me. Thanks for raising this issue!!
    Desparate Diane

    ps: I noticed Phila. Mayor Nutter offered $ to firms willing to hire reformed criminals. I applaud him for this. Is there a NJ program similar to his?