With 11.5 million open positions in the U.S. and more than three-fifths of states holding some form of “ban-the-box law, many would assume that a population as large as the formerly incarcerated would be able to find employment. However, despite many years of work, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that of a cohort of 51,500 individuals released in 2010, 33% remained unemployed four years after their release.
The issue of joblessness for the formerly incarcerated has not gone unnoticed, with a recent announcement from the White House planning to invest $145 million in a program that will provide those released from federal prisons with “job skills training and individualized employment and re-entry plans” through the 2022-23 fiscal years. In addition, though stigma remains, a report from the Society of Human Resource Management found that the majority of HR professionals and business leaders agree that employees with criminal records are equal or more dependable than those without criminal records at 75% and 73%, respectively.
Despite this level of support from employers, there are still significant barriers for those with criminal records. For example, many formerly incarcerated individuals may have difficulty competing with other applicants due to difficulty finding housing, transportation, and even suitable identification. Further, despite many attempts to give those with a criminal record the chance to compete equally through means such as ban-the-box laws, some policies may lock these individuals out of positions. Laws and court rulings also vary considerably across the country. As recently as April, the Eighth Circuit ruled that employers do not have to give those with a criminal record a chance to explain their history before making an adverse employment decision.
However, there are ways that employers can help support formerly incarcerated individuals. This could start with contacting local prisons and re-entry organizations to help provide employment opportunities to some of the more than ten thousand ex-prisoners released every week. For recruiters, advocates suggest focusing not on applicants’ history but on them as an individual and the skills and talent they can bring to a position. Then, once an individual begins onboarding, it is important to continue supporting these new employees throughout their careers.
It is essential to remember that this initiative benefits the employer’s recruitment goals, employee’s future, and society by significantly reducing recidivism. For all of these reasons, it is of crucial importance to ensure the accuracy of any background checks that will be performed and consider whether or not an individual’s criminal history will actually have an impact on their ability to perform the position for which they are applying, and give them the chance to respond before making any final decisions. Accepting those who have been previously incarcerated can give them a sense of hope that can mean a world of difference.
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