Across the country, more and more employers are recognizing that restrictive hiring practices contribute to mass incarceration.  These practices, which include excessive screening and flawed background check policies, have excluded millions of well-qualified and rehabilitated workers from our economy on the basis of labels alone.

70-100 million Americans—nearly one in three—have some form of criminal history, and between 14 and 15.8 million have a felony conviction.  The adverse impact of time in prison or a felony conviction on individual employment prospects causes an estimated annual loss of $78-$87 billion in U.S. GDP. 

There are many steps employers can take to ease employment barriers for formerly incarcerated people and people with criminal records.  “Fair Chance Employers,” as they are commonly known, develop inclusive hiring practices and organizational cultures to expand their applicant pool and successfully place rehabilitated persons into jobs for which they are well-qualified.  As explained in some of the resources below, Fair Chance Employers can combat mass incarceration and the second-class status of people with conviction and arrest histories without exposing themselves to greater risk. By taking advantage of federal, state, and local incentive programs such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), Fair Chance Employers can actually advantage their own bottom line while creating substantial benefits for the community.

Fair Chance Employment practices can significantly expand an employer’s talent pool.  When Minneapolis passed a law in 2007 requiring employers to delay asking about criminal histories until a conditional offer of employment has been made, more than 50 percent of job seekers with criminal convictions whose records had been previously flagged as a concern were hired for public employment.  In Durham, North Carolina, 96 percent of those with criminal records applying for city jobs were recommended for hire after the city moved the criminal history inquiry to later in the process.

Useful Resources for Employers:

  1. The National Employment Law Project has created a step-by-step model hiring policy for companies to reduce barriers to well-qualified individuals with arrest or conviction histories.  https://s27147.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/NELP-Fair-Chance-Ban-the-Box-Toolkit.pdf

  2. Dave’s Killer Bread, a leading Fair Chance Employer based out of Portland, Oregon, has developed a step-by-step “Roadmap” for organizations interested in becoming Fair Chance Employers (free after you create an account): https://www.dkbfoundation.org/second-chance-employer-roadmap/

  3. The ACLU offers a comprehensive list of action recommendations in its 2017 report titled Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company: https://www.aclu.org/report/back-business-how-hiring-formerly-incarcerated-job-seekers-benefits-your-company

  4. The Ford Foundation, which created its own re-entry program for graduates from the Bard Prison Initiative, has offered to help employers create re-entry programs in their organizations.  The foundation lists two points of contact to help you answer questions and connect you with experts here: https://www.fordfoundation.org/media/3371/bpi_toolkit_v3-1.pdf