The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 25% of the global imprisoned population located in the US. In fact, an estimated one in three Americans have some sort of criminal record. Every year though, more than 650,000 prisoners in the country are set free to rejoin society, part of which involves securing a job. Many employers are reluctant to hire people with past criminal records. After all, what if they steal or even exhibit violence at work?
Researchers at Kellogg and Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law analyzed the data to find out whether businesses should hire people with past criminal records or if they are right to be concerned. They found that ex-convicts were no more likely to be fired than those who did not have run-ins with the law. Additionally, the ex-offenders were found the be 13% less likely to quit their jobs, which saves employers time and money when it comes to interviewing, hiring, and training new employees.
Having a job reduces the chance of ex-offenders returning to their criminal ways, yet almost 60% remain unemployed one year after being released from prison. A staggering 89% of offenders who are re-arrested are unemployed. Rejoining the workforce can help integrate people with past records back into society while decreasing crime. Many unemployed people with past criminal records will turn back to crime just in order to pay the bills when they get desperate. Employment can help prevent this.
Additionally, it is beneficial to the economy: our country's prison population grew 705% between 1973 and 2009 and states now spend more than $52 billion of their budgets on incarceration. That's second in expenditure only to Medicaid. A Baylor University study found that when an ex-convict has a job, he contributes to the economy by more than $10,000 a year, instead of taking away from the economy.
People who have served time often feel that they have something to prove to their families, society, and their employers after they get out, so they are willing to put in hard work, versus other employees that may simply watch the clock until they can go home. Additionally, employers can benefit from hiring incentives, such as the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Certain states provide additional tax credits, training funds, and partial wage reimbursement for employers who hire ex-felons.
While the Kellogg and Northwestern study did show that ex-convicts who are fired are 28% more likely than non-ex-convicts who are fired to have records of workplace misconduct, this appeared to be limited to sales positions. Additionally, the government offers fidelity bonds to protect against employee dishonesty and theft. Many parolees are drug-tested by their parole officers regularly as a condition of their release, which is at no extra cost to the employer.
Finally, criminals have already served their sentences. Studies have found that ex-felons who have been out of prison for at least seven years have no higher rate of committing a crime than anybody else. Just because someone has a criminal record does not mean that they committed a violent crime. Hiring managers should ask how long it's been since the applicant's conviction, how it relates to the job, and give the candidate a chance to explain himself. Some states have banned companies from asking candidates on the initial job applications if they have a criminal record, and since state and local laws can change and may vary widely, it's always a good idea to consult an employment law attorney before rejecting someone just because of a past conviction.