Imagine, if you will, your most harrowing mistake remaining with you for the rest of your life, open for the public to see. Think back to when you were a kid, a young adult, or just in a bad situation, and that wrong choice never left you, branded on your forehead, forever having this mistake define who you are.
Not so pleasant, right?
This is the reality that nearly one-third of Americans face each day. I am talking about the invisible population of Americans with a criminal record.
Now, we all know that there’s a ton of work that needs to be done to fix the criminal justice system. Incarceration rates are most significant in high-poverty, minority neighborhoods. These are the people who cannot afford a fancy lawyer. They are sentenced to prison for X number of years, only to serve their time and be released (not reacclimated) back into society. With no home, no help, and no hope, it’s no wonder why 76% of inmates end up back in prison within five years.
There needs to be a shift in the professional workspace that both allows and encourages this group of people to create meaningful career goals so that they can get their second chance. How can we, as managers and talent aficionados, make these chances possible?
We can hire someone with a criminal record, of course!
The task may seem daunting. How can I trust someone who has been to prison? I get it. You want to protect your employees from a potentially “dangerous” person, but the fact is that most people who have a record made a non-violent mistake and got caught. 64.5% of people in prison are there for non-violent offenses, with 1 in 5 inmates sentenced for non-violent drug offenses.
In case that little intro wasn’t enough to sway you, here are some solid reasons why you should take a second look at the candidate with a criminal record:
I. The talent pool gets larger
As unemployment rates drop, and the talent pool gets smaller, you should look into the candidate whose past might not be so squeaky clean. Passing over a candidate solely because of a criminal record can leave you looking over someone who is highly skilled and can add value to your team. This will not only open up your talent pipeline but also diversify your hiring pool
II. Consistent, loyal, hard work
If your freedom depended on keeping your gig, wouldn’t you work hard? Probation requires a steady job, as does paying rent and all of the other everyday activities this population is responsible for. This means that those with a criminal record will work just as hard, if not harder, at their job to keep on the right path and out of the system. They also understand that society limits them from finding work elsewhere, making them appreciative of what they have, and loyal to the company they work for. Did somebody say retention booster?
III. It’s the right thing to do
How can we as a society move forward to help ex-convicts develop their goals and stay out of a prison system that was built to keep them in? The answer is simple: don’t focus on the “have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense” box. Instead, look at their skills and how well they would fit in with company culture. This group of people has already been through the justice system, faced a judge and jury, and did their time. They paid for a mistake they made and are now trying to be and do better, so let’s help them and our own teams at the same time.
IV. Tax incentives
If all of that doesn’t entice you to hire someone with a past, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit is just one of many tax incentives that the US Government offers to companies who hire people with a record.
Life after lockup is stressful. Former inmates are shoved back into society. They are told to swim or “see you in 6-12 months.” They are met with rejection after rejection. Need somewhere to live? Applying for health care or a line of credit? Want to vote? Normal, everyday occurrences are made that much harder and often send former inmates to a really dark place.
A ‘simple’ job is much more than a check-box for a probation officer, or money to pay rent. This job will afford them hope; hope that they can make a life past their mistake, to build confidence and ultimately alter the course of their future! By looking beyond a fault, we can actively contribute to our communities, strengthen our talent pools, and do the right thing. We shouldn’t let one mistake define someone’s entire life; we can be the opportunity to help someone establish a meaningful second chance.