Should You Hire Candidates with a Criminal Background History?

While the bill has yet to go into effect, the recently passed, bi-partisan First Step Act will reform federal prison sentencing and may prompt a shift in our judicial system that means more individuals with criminal backgrounds are entering the workforce.  While many organizations maintain a blanket policy ruling out candidates with a criminal background, this may be a mistake and unlawful in some cases.  In the current job market, finding the right candidate can be difficult enough, and immediately discounting an entire group of potential employees seems to be leaving organizations with a hole that could easily be filled.

Studies show hiring an individual with a criminal background is not dangerous, as is often the stereotype. In fact, it has been found to be beneficial to the individual, their coworkers, and their employer. Having consistent, lawful employment often keeps those with criminal history on the right track; it helps them in building financial stability and a support system; and assists them in becoming contributing members of their community. In addition to the individual and social benefits, hiring from this pool can give you well equipped tradespeople and employees.

When looking to hire an individual with a criminal background it is best to begin from a place of empathy and understanding.  Avoid falling into stereotypes or generalizations. Keep in mind that the research shows most individuals with a criminal background are working hard to reintegrate into their community. In addition, support systems such as parole, provide support and supervision, making these employees often more reliable than their peers.

The next step in the process is to review your policies. Ensure that you are not unintentionally biased against candidates with a criminal background. Take a look at your hiring process and employment policies, ensure you are in line with all local, state, and federal laws and open to the opportunity of widening you candidate pool. The last step before beginning the search is to ensure your liability insurance covers employers who hire risky populations. While it may not be necessary the majority of the time, it is best to cover all your bases. You may even be eligible for a tax credit or other incentive once your organization is properly insured.

Expanding to any new population to search for candidates can be challenging. Consider looking for a partnership to help expedite the process. Most states offer programs to assist individuals in gaining soft and trade skills while they are serving time and find a position after they are discharged. These organizations may be able to help you find the right candidate and ensure they have the skills to be successful in your organization. Career One Stop is an excellent example of one such organization. You can find resources and assistance here:

Ultimately, widening your candidate pool to include individuals with a criminal background can bring loyal, hardworking, and dedicated employees to your organization. As with any candidate search, be sure to ensure your organization is covered by being adequately insured and in line with local, state, and federal legislation. No matter where you begin, finding the perfect candidate is difficult. Being open to diversity will empower you, your employees, and your organization to be productive, happy, and successful.

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