3 Unexpected Facts About Candidates With Criminal Records

Kim Moutsos

If you worry about the implications of hiring someone with a criminal record, as many employers do, findings from these three recent studies may challenge your thinking.

Given that it’s National Reentry Week, a Department of Justice effort to raise awareness about the importance (and the challenges) of reentry, take a moment to explore the data around employees with criminal records.  

1. Hiring people with criminal records helps your community. 

During a National Reentry Week event earlier this week, the Obama Administration released a new study that found that improving access to employment not only helps the people who have criminal records, but also has “the potential to decrease recidivism and increase the economic viability of communities.”

So, hiring someone with a criminal record can help society in the long run. But what about your own company? How would a person with a criminal record work out for you today?

2. Employees who have criminal records are no more likely to get fired than those who don’t.

Four graduate students in the public policy program at Stanford University recently explored the job performance of people who have criminal records compared with those who don’t. Of the 5,000 people studied, the 800 who had criminal records “performed identically to those without” in terms of termination for unsuccessful job performance and other measures.

Not getting fired is one indicator of performance. But what about measures that indicate how well a person performs – beyond simply keeping the job? Turns out, there’s evidence from one major employer, the U.S. military services.

3. Soldiers with criminal records outperformed soldiers without records. 

Though they can’t currently enlist, people with felony convictions received waivers to allow their entry to the military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Harvard researcher recently studied more than 1 million soldiers’ records from a period during which waivers were granted (2002 - 2009). She found that soldiers with felons were no more likely to get “kicked out” of the military than other soldiers. More surprisingly, soldiers with felony waivers got promoted “faster and to higher levels” than soldiers without convictions.

Companies that position themselves as “reentry friendly” often cite willingness to work hard and gratefulness for the second chance as characteristics of their employees who have criminal records. These findings seem to support those anecdotes.

Beyond the data lie the personal circumstances behind the criminal records. An earlier study found that employers are more likely to hire a candidate with a criminal record when they have more information about it. In fact, 84% of employers surveyed said they’d hire someone with a misdemeanor record.

Why Reentry Matters To Employers

When it comes to criminal records, openness to context serves companies well by keeping them in compliance with guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that requires individual assessment (versus a blanket ban) for candidates with criminal records.

GoodHire recently introduced Comments For Context to help you satisfy this provision for individual assessment – and to keep potentially high-performing employees in your pipeline.

Learn about what employers should know about the reentry population and check out a new app, created by an award-winning filmmaker, that’s guiding returning citizens and their parole officers through reentry. Then join the conversation online @goodhiretweets #reentry #FairHiring #GoodHiring.

Disclaimer: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Kim Moutsos

Kim Moutsos


Editor in chief of the GoodHire blog The Works, Kim Moutsos seeks out the latest advice on hiring, compliance, background checks, and the future of work. When she’s not reading, writing, or wrangling other writers, she’s likely on one of her daily runs (over 777 consecutive and counting).

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