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Second Chance Month: Advocating for Fair Chance Hiring

Advocating for fair chance hiring

April is Second Chance Month, which promotes fair hiring for people with criminal records. Learn how you can advocate for the formerly incarcerated with a fair chance at employment—and how doing so benefits them, your organization, and your community.

Today, approximately 70 million US adults have a criminal record, many of whom have difficulty gaining employment. A year after release, 63 percent of formerly incarcerated remain unemployed, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Even though organizations of all sizes are struggling to find and hire talent, the unemployment rate for those with criminal convictions is over seven times the national average. Nearly all employers (96%) conduct some type of employment screening, which often becomes a barrier to entry for those with a criminal history.

GoodHire has joined forces with Checkr, who shares our commitment to fair hiring and leveraging technology to create opportunities for all. To educate employers about the value of hiring for diversity and inclusion, we’re proud to celebrate Second Chance Month alongside Checkr. Launched in 2017, Second Chance Month aims to bring change to hiring practices by advocating for fair chance and reentry initiatives. The month of April reaffirms the importance of helping those with criminal convictions reenter the workforce with the support of employers, communities, and government agencies nationwide.

Employer Benefits of Fair Chance Hiring

Implementing policies to help the formerly incarcerated gain employment, typically called fair chance hiring, has many benefits for employers, including: 

  • Access to a larger talent pool. With an increasingly tight labor market, failing to consider candidates with criminal records puts your business at a disadvantage. Companies that are “reentry friendly” also benefit from a loyal workforce and higher retention rates
  • Compliance with ban-the-box laws. More than 150 cities and counties and 37 states have fair hiring laws designed to give candidates with criminal records a better chance at getting jobs. Often called “ban-the-box” laws, these laws forbid employers from asking about criminal history or conducting criminal background checks until later in the hiring process, typically after an initial interview or after a conditional offer of employment. The laws also govern how employers can consider criminal records in making hiring decisions and what steps they must take if they decline a candidate due to information found in a criminal background check. Failing to comply with these laws can expose your company to legal liability which can lead to costly fines and lawsuits
  • Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Hiring formerly incarcerated people helps support your company’s DE&I initiatives. Since people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system, excluding people with criminal records may have a disparate impact on people of color and lead to unintentional discrimination.. In addition, formerly incarcerated people bring diverse viewpoints and experiences that can benefit your company. 
  • Providing tax breaks. Fair hiring may qualify your organization for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), a federal tax credit for hiring individuals in targeted groups, including individuals with felony convictions. Check with your state and city to see if there are local benefits as well.  

Employment Reduces the Recidivism Cycle

Of course, fair hiring also benefits the individuals impacted by the criminal justice system. Reentry into civilian life is difficult for the more than 600,000 Americans released from state and federal prisons every year, and almost half end up re-offending and back in prison within three years. Employment is the single most important influence on reducing recidivism. According to “Statewide rates of recidivism range from about 31 to 70 percent, while the rates for those placed in jobs shortly after their release ranged from 3.3 to eight percent.” 

People exiting the criminal justice system and gaining employment become economically stable and contribute to strengthening the community by increasing economic vitality as tax-payers. In fact, the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that excluding job candidates with criminal records has cost as much as $87 billion in GDP

Consider these success stories of fair hiring making a difference: 

  • After serving 10 years on a drug-related felony charge as a teen, Brandon Chrostowski founded EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. The fine dining restaurant is staffed entirely by formerly incarcerated people, while the Institute trains prisoners and recently released individuals for jobs outside of prison. 
  • John Rush founded commercial cleaning company CleanTurn with a focus on hiring individuals reentering society from prison. Some 95% of CleanTurn’s employees have had past interaction with the criminal justice system; the company provides leadership and career training to help them succeed. 
  • While volunteering in a prison, Cheri Garcia, owner of staffing agency Cornbread Hustle, saw an opportunity to help find jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals. Cornbread Hustle screens candidates before matching them with employers; Garcia also helps client companies set up their own fair chance hiring programs.  

How to Incorporate Fair Hiring Practices at Your Organization

Many organizations are ready to take action to support fair hiring, but may be intimidated on how to begin. The first step in the process is creating a screening policy and hiring plan that includes fair hiring initiatives. Review your job listings, application forms, recruiting policies, and hiring practices and make changes necessary to support fair hiring, including: 

Remove questions about prior convictions from your job applications. This step may already be complete if your state, county, or city has ban-the-box laws, but this can easily be done regardless of your jurisdiction. Removing this question allows you to consider every applicant fairly without information about their criminal background unintentionally biasing your opinion.

Filter out criminal records that aren’t relevant or required. If you conduct a criminal background check, filter out records that 1) you aren’t legally required to consider and 2) you don’t consider relevant based on your policies. For example, the law may require screening a potential childcare employee for past sex offenses. However, if the job doesn’t involve driving, you may decide that a misdemeanor driving offense or substance abuse charge from several years ago are irrelevant for that position. 

Eliminate barriers from your hiring process. Formerly incarcerated people may not have degrees or credentials and may have gaps in employment. Requirements such as “three years of experience” can inadvertently exclude people with criminal records from even applying for jobs. Instead of requiring past experience or certain degrees, make sure your job ads and interview process focus on the skills-based needs for the role. 

Connect with workforce development experts. Make connections with local partners and reentry organizations that support fair chance recruitment. Such organizations can help you formulate your fair chance hiring policy; many even provide formerly incarcerated people with job training, and help with placement. You can find these organizations by contacting local religious groups; prisons or juvenile justice facilities; business organizations; or state, city, or county government officials. A quick online search will also reveal many organizations in your area; for example, Help for Felons has a list of re-entry programs by state.

Fairly assess criminal records. If you conduct a criminal background check and find a candidate has a criminal record, follow the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC recommends considering:  

  • The nature and seriousness of the offense
  • How long it’s been since the offense or since the sentence was served
  • The nature of the job and whether the offense is relevant 

The EEOC also recommends conducting an “individualized assessment” of the offense by requesting more information for context and allowing the candidate to explain any mitigating circumstances.

Share your commitment. There are several ways you can promote your dedication to fair chance hiring: discussing your company’s support of fair hiring on your website and job posts, announcing it on social media to honor Second Chance Month, and signing a public pledge such as those from Glassdoor or the White House

Additional resources for fair chance hiring include: 

Helping You Give Job Candidates a Second Chance 

As you expand your efforts to hire employees with criminal histories, conducting compliant background checks can ensure you protect your company and reputation while still giving justice-impacted individuals a second chance. GoodHire’s background checks include several features to support fair hiring:

  • Based on EEOC guidance that considering arrest records can cause unintentional discrimination, GoodHire excludes non-convictions from criminal background check results. 
  • GoodHire’s Comments for Context feature enables employers to request additional details about an offense; candidates are then able to provide context to explain their criminal record(s).  
  • GoodHire’s filtering capabilities use the compliance requirements of each jurisdiction to filter out criminal background check results you can’t legally consider. You can also create your own filters based on your fair hiring policies.

Providing a second chance for the formerly incarcerated is good business, good for the community, and simply the right thing to do. GoodHire is here to help make it easier. To ensure compliant and fair hiring decisions for candidates with criminal records, trust GoodHire with your background check process. 

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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.

About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.

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