Hiring ex-offenders: Learning from experience

January 2, 2018

Hiring ex-offenders: Learning from experience

With the economy growing and unemployment at the lowest levels in years, many companies are finding it more challenging to fill job openings. If your organization is like most, it is not likely to consider looking for and/or hiring someone with a criminal record to fill these positions. As I have learned through studying employer hiring of ex-offenders over the past few years, employers are often reluctant to hire candidates with a criminal history for a number of reasons.


First and foremost, many are concerned about being held legally liable for crimes ex-offenders may commit that could potentially harm employees, customers and the business. Given the stigma associated with having a criminal record and the fact that some ex-offenders may return to prior behaviors and addictions that lead to re-arrest and a return to incarceration, businesses are also concerned about protecting their reputation. There are practical barriers as well: ex-offenders may not have the education or skills employers are looking for, or have parole-related commitments that make it difficult to maintain regular work hours. Some ex-offenders convicted of white collar crimes such as accounting or securities fraud, may have high education and skill levels, but are unable to be employed in professional roles following incarceration due to the loss of professional credentials.


Ex-offenders often work as hard, or harder than other employees, managers said, as a way to show appreciation for being given a second chance and to demonstrate their value to the organization.


And yet despite these concerns, some organizations have hired ex-offenders. Why? For three primary reasons. First, ex-offenders can help meet the demand for hard-to-fill jobs, such as in the construction industry. Second, these businesses believe in the importance of giving ex-offenders a second chance and helping them rebuild their lives. Third, some organizations view hiring ex-offenders as a way to contribute to their local communities, keeping them safer by offering ex-offenders stable employment and an alternative to committing additional crimes.


For those employers willing to hire ex-offenders, what has been their experience? Without question, there are challenges, and not all ex-offenders are ready to make the transition to full-time employment. But several employers I’ve spoken to have praised the willingness of ex-offenders to take on tough jobs. Hiring managers, in particular, spoke of the gratitude shown by ex-offenders they hired. Ex-offenders often work as hard, or harder than other employees, managers said, as a way to show appreciation for being given a second chance and to demonstrate their value to the organization.


One business owner shared with me that he was an ex-offender, having spent eight years in prison for a fraud conviction. When released from incarceration, he faced months of rejection before being hired into an entry level sales role. Grateful for the opportunity, he did so well that within a few years he was promoted to the level of Vice-President of Sales. He eventually secured the necessary funding to buy a small manufacturing firm and now hires ex-offenders to fill job openings in his own organization.


Some employers adopted strategies to reduce the risks associated with hiring ex-offenders by working with organizations, such as Pioneer Human Services in Washington state or Project H.O.P.E in Alabama, that provide candidates with critical services and skills training to prepare them for employment.


Many of the firms I have spoken to in my research are interested in sharing more about their experiences hiring ex-offenders but don’t know how or where to start. In the Pacific Northwest, Dave’s Killer Bread — a Portland-based business that is a nationally recognized leader in the hiring and retention of ex-offenders—has hosted a series of “Second Chance Summits” that bring together organizations from business, government and nonprofit sectors with an interest in hiring ex-offenders. Register your organization and consider sharing your stories at a future conference, or even take the pledge in support of changing perceptions and inspiring others to become second chance employers.


I’d also like to invite you to share your own experience hiring ex-offenders with me and other readers. How long have you been hiring ex-offenders and for what kinds of positions? How do ex-offenders compare with other hires for comparable positions as far as absenteeism, turnover and performance on the job? Feel free to send me an email directly. You don’t have to identify your organization, unless you wish. I plan to summarize what I hear and then share your experiences and insights with readers in my next blog post. Stay tuned.

The Authors: 

Jerry Goodstein, PhD, is a professor at the Washington State University Carson College of Business, teaching strategic management, organizational design, leadership, and business ethics at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Goodstein has served on the editorial boards of Administrative Sciences Quarterly and the Academy of Management Journal, and is a past associate editor for the Journal of Management. He currently serves as an associate editor for Business Ethics Quarterly. For more information on this research, Goodstein can be reached at jgoodstein@wsu.edu.