The volunteer Bianna Walden, left, mentors students Gregory Sutton, center, and Charles Commings as Defy Ventures holds a business pitch competition for prisoners enrolled in the entrepreneurs in training program, at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, California, in 2015.
San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Contributor
Formerly incarcerated individuals face negative stereotypes and biases in the job market.
The tight labor market is an opportunity for employers to recruit this overlooked talent pool.
Employers should target their hiring practices and provide resources to attract these workers.
In 2022, finding and hiring talent continues to be one of businesses’ biggest struggles. One group of workers companies can make more of an effort to reach out to during the tough time of hiring is formerly incarcerated Americans.
“Employers can look for new talent pools, workers who have been overlooked by the labor market,” Daniel Zhao, senior economist and data scientist at Glassdoor, told Insider.
Zhao mentioned people who have been formerly incarcerated as part of those “who tend to see more job opportunities when the job market is very hot.” Over 70 million Americans have a criminal record, and about 8 million have been imprisoned at some point in their lives, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice.
Abbey Carlton, Indeed’s head of social impact, told Insider that she thinks the difficult hiring situation amid the pandemic might have resulted in some employers being more willing to hire formerly incarcerated Americans. But the pandemic, in general, might be a tough situation for this talent pool looking for work.
“I think for job seekers who have been formerly incarcerated, particularly those who are coming out of jail or prison right now,” she said. “They are coming into a global pandemic and a set of circumstances that is so challenging and so unique in terms of just kind of reestablishing yourself, not just the job, but all the different pieces of getting identification and housing and everything that has been affected by the pandemic.”
Formerly incarcerated people have faced discrimination and high unemployment
A report published at the end of last year examined the employment situation of people released from federal prison in 2010. The authors of the report include the Bureau of Justice Statistics statistician Elizabeth Ann Carson and several researchers from the US Census Bureau.
“More than two-thirds (67%) of the study population released from federal prison in 2010 obtained formal employment at any point during the 16 quarters following release,” the authors wrote. “However, the total study population’s employment did not exceed 40% in any of the individual 16 quarters after release.”
But experts agree that there’s an opportunity in the pandemic to change this.
“What the pandemic’s done is we have a huge labor shortage, so it’s created tremendous opportunities for these returning citizens,” said Deb Alderson, CEO of ViaPath Technologies. ViaPath Technologies, formerly GTL, provides phone service and tablets to incarcerated individuals and also hires formerly incarcerated individuals.
Additionally, large companies like Walmart and McDonald’s have joined the Second Chance Business Coalition, cochaired by JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Eaton’s Craig Arnold. That group focuses on the employment of people with criminal records.
“Research shows that nearly 90% of employers require applicants to undergo a background check, and a criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a second interview by 50%. That’s why the SCBC is working w/ large employers to advance second chances in the U.S.,” the Second Chance Business Coalition recently wrote on Twitter.
The first step to tapping into this talent pool is knowing where to look
Employers can post open roles on Honest Jobs, a job board specifically designed for those affected by the criminal-justice system, Alderson said. But companies can also take their search one step further.
“Our customers, the department of corrections across all these counties, are more than willing to work with people,” she said. “And they will have potential employers come in and meet with the incarcerated individuals.”
Carlton said companies could “create a talent pipeline” by partnering with nonprofit or community partners that help those with criminal records find employment.
Employers can also join the “Ban the Box” campaign, Alderson said, which aims to eliminate the box on job applications that asks applicants whether they have a criminal record.
Robert Rooks, CEO of Reform Alliance, wrote in an opinion piece on CNN that even with Ban the Box laws, “discriminatory hiring practices can still make it difficult to land a job.” He also said in his piece about the opportunity to hire more formerly incarcerated and those on probation and parole amid Americans leaving their jobs that “we need criminal justice reform to fully activate this workforce’s potential.”
“Background checks are used by an overwhelming majority of employers,” Carlton said. “But it’s often the case that because employers can see job seekers with a criminal record as a riskier population that they will put in place overly restrictive background checks.”
Brian Matthews, senior vice president and general manager at the Equifax company Appriss Insights, told Insider some compliance-driven industries, such as financial services and healthcare, need to run background checks because of regulations that prohibit job seekers convicted of certain crimes from working in those industries.
“There is a requirement actually from a compliance, from a legal and an oftentimes like insurance or business perspective, that people do not have certain crimes in their past,” he said about these industries. “And so it’s become generally speaking fairly standard for a background check.”
Take advantage of available resources and adjust your practices
“I would say a potential employer should feel very comfortable hiring someone who’s incarcerated who has had the proper training,” Alderson said. “It’s not riskier than hiring someone who hasn’t been incarcerated.”
Matthews said that “continuous monitoring” — hiring a formerly incarcerated individual who might not usually be eligible for the position and then monitoring for any changes in their risk profile — can increase formerly incarcerated workers in the labor market.
Matthews said such an approach would “expand the candidate pool to include formerly incarcerated, to increase the likelihood of them being hired and being a productive part of a workforce” as well as “increasing engagement within the employer.”
But employers should aim to be welcoming to incarcerated individuals and not just “willing” to hire them, Alderson added.
“I had a relative who was incarcerated and is doing quite well now, but that’s because there was a network when he got out,” Alderson said. “There are a lot of people who get out who don’t have that network. I think any employer who can offer some type of service around re-entering the community, helping them find housing, access to tools around medical needs, will give them an opportunity to be successful.”
Economy, Markets, Careers, Hiring, hiring best practices, labor shortage, Incarceration, job seeker, Economy
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