August 18, 2021
With outdated policies and stigmas against hiring employees with conviction records, many incarcerated individuals are unable to fully participate in the job market and contribute to the economy once they leave the prison system. Building pathways for these Americans and partnering with businesses that work to bring incarcerated individuals back into the workforce is key to overcoming these employment barriers.
Here is how government initiatives are expanding “second-chance” hiring opportunities and how private businesses can get involved in creating greater equality in the job market.
The Current Administration Is Working to Help Those With Convictions
The Biden administration has a number of initiatives and potential laws in the works to create opportunities for previously incarcerated citizens, including the Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunity Program.
“The federal government should be a model employer,” explained Chiraag Bains, special assistant to the President for Criminal Justice & Guns Policy. “It should prioritize employment opportunities and make sure that there are no barriers to people who have conviction records when those are not appropriate.”
The government is also working to expand the Ban the Box campaign — an initiative to remove the check box that asks potential employees if they have previously been convicted for a criminal offense.
“Under Ban the Box, the employer doesn't ask about a conviction history or criminal history until giving a conditional offer of employment,” said Bains. “At that point, they're really looking at, ‘this is someone we want and is the conviction really job-related?’ It shouldn't be a barrier to employment.”
“A lot of employers don't know about this, but [there’s] a tax credit that allows employers to receive a credit of up to $2,400 to hire someone within a year of their felony conviction,” added Bains. “In fiscal year 2020, that work opportunity tax credit supported second-chance hiring for 69,000 previously incarcerated [individuals].”
Hiring Managers Should Consider Potential Employees’ Individual Circumstances
Many businesses do not provide previously incarcerated individuals the opportunity to work for their company because they don’t understand that person’s side of the story. Erin Fletcher, director of Program Management and People Operations Support Team at Walmart, feels that It’s important to fully comprehend the potential employee’s circumstances before dismissing their candidacy.
“Once an individual goes through that background check that's … not the end, right?” said Fletcher. “They have another chance [where they] can actually state their individual circumstances. What rehabilitation has occurred? ‘At the time of conviction, this was my circumstance; this was my situation. Since then, I have done and taken these steps, I've worked with this organization, I've taken these classes … my situation is different.’”
Some businesses can even get creative and go to prisons to speak to incarcerated people about their experiences and get to know their situation better, said Kevin Gay, the CEO of Operation New Hope.
“What did they take advantage of while they were in? Did they get [an] education? Were they willing to participate? Did they have disciplinary write-ups?” said Gay. “There are employers that are getting really creative.”
Businesses Can Tap Into an Underutilized Talent Pool
There are multiple ways for businesses to get involved with hiring previously incarcerated members of society who may be the right fit for an open position. Browsing through LinkedIn to take note of second-chance hires, as well as getting your HR team on board, is crucial.
“One of the keys in an interview is getting the reputation out in the community that the company has an open-door policy,” Gay said.
It’s also important to get involved in your community and see what organizations are pooling together underrepresented and underutilized talent, said Monique Baptiste, head of workforce philanthropy at JP Morgan Chase & Co.
“In every community, there is an organization that works with this population,” said Baptiste. “There is a workforce development system that is community-centered [and] can be fantastic partners to build really effective talent pipelines.”
“I would really suggest finding those individuals, finding those organizations, building relationships and co-designing the model in a way that's responsive to that community and that labor market so you can really get the best outcomes,” Baptiste advised.
From the Series