I admit it. I have been one of those HR people reluctant to hire ex-offenders under the assumption that once trouble – always trouble.
But my husband helped me realize the error of this stereotyping. He worked in the court system for 20 years, dealing with felons and their legal financial obligations. Having heard his stories, I’ve realized that our society often sets up those released from prison for failure through a myriad of barriers to re-entry.
These barriers include employers that are unwilling to take risks on those with criminal records and landlords who are reluctant to make housing available. On the regulatory side, many professions from hair stylist to massage therapist to tattoo/piercing artist have licensing requirements that prevent those with a criminal record to obtain them.
On top of this, many people with a criminal background have a significant debt load in the form of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), which impacts their ability to pay for rent, transportation, child support or other basic necessities. It is no wonder that we have such a high recidivism rate.
As human resources professionals, we can help break this cycle. This is an untapped talent pool that tends to have high loyalty to those willing to hire them.
Here are steps we can take to support those re-entering the workforce:
Licensing. Human resources professionals can assist people with criminal backgrounds by helping obtain provisional licensing either through sponsorship or facilitation. Recently, Washington State developed a CROP program (Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity) in which ex-offenders can apply for licensing by meeting certain minimal criteria. Ex-offenders may be reluctant to or feel overwhelmed by dealing with the court system to obtain a CROP. But a little help from a seasoned HR professional might generate loyalty from a future employee. Other states have similar programs.
Debt management. The key to being able to afford housing and other basic necessities is to help with debt management. Employers can assist ex-offenders by managing payroll deduction programs for LFOs. Often, courts are willing to negotiate lower payments when employers facilitate their payments directly. As a result, ex-offenders are less likely to get re-arrested for failure to pay.
Verification of employment. Working closely with people with criminal records on the steps above makes the employer more likely to give a favorable verification of employment when they complete housing or car loan applications.
Many people with criminal backgrounds simply want the opportunity to start their life over, and finding good employment is the key to realizing that dream.
If you’re considering hiring from this population, once you get close to finalizing the offer, don’t be afraid to ask them to help review their court status and identify who in the court system you can partner with to help put programs in place to support their re-entry. Their willingness to provide these details is a good indication of their commitment to success and is a first step to developing a strong partnership.
Darcey McAllister is principal consultant, HRT Northwest, in Oregon. She is a member of SHRM’s Technology and HR Special Expertise Panel.