Why You Should Care About Fair Chance Hiring

Compliance   |   

For many job applicants, having a criminal record means applying for a job is pointless. For the 70 million U.S. adults who have a criminal record, and the 600,000 people released from prison every year, their criminal history shuts doors before they open.

"Ban the box" legislation passed in 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties is opening those doors by giving people a chance to present their qualifications for a job before encountering the stigma associated with a criminal record.

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that federal employers will be joining these 19 states in adopting ban the box, which prevents employers from asking about a job applicant's criminal history until later in the hiring process.

The Positive Impact of "Ban The Box"

Consider this: two-thirds of ex-prisoners remain out of work a year after being released, and 60% are rearrested within three years. Though many are ready, willing, and able to work, they're ignored by the job market.

Instead of a steady job, they find themselves caught in a cycle of poverty, criminality, and reincarceration as they try to support themselves and their families. One study on ex-prisoners found that employment was the single most important influence on decreasing recidivism.

Meanwhile many businesses face a lack of talent to fill open positions. Removing "the box" from applications opens a potential source for new employees by letting employers make individualized assessments instead of blanket exclusions.

When employers assess candidates based on skills these benefits accrue:

Increased economic stability. A study conducted by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia found that putting 100 former prisoners back to work would increase lifetime earnings by $55 million, increase income tax contributions by $1.9 million, boost sales tax revenues by $770,000, and save more than $2 million annually in prosecution and incarceration costs.

Increased public safety. When ex-prisoners have jobs, they're less likely to commit new crimes. One study that found a 1% drop in unemployment causes a 2% decline in burglary, a 1.5% decline in larceny, and a 1% decline in auto theft. The rate of recidivism, or relapse into criminal behavior, goes down significantly with employment opportunities: The recidivism rate among ex-prisoners who held a job for one year is 16%. In contrast, the recidivism rate among all ex-prisoners is 52.3%.

Increased community wellbeing. Many former prisoners move to neighborhoods in heavily populated cities, and families in these neighborhoods often already struggle to gain financial stability. Consider that incarceration drops a family's income by 15%, and 65% of former prisoners depend on a family member for financial support after they are released. Removing barriers to employment can have a positive impact on children, families, and the community at large.

Fair Chance Hiring Effectiveness

Remember those 70 million people with criminal records?

The Mark of a Criminal Record study found that 50% of employers are unwilling to consider equally qualified applicants because of a criminal record, yet a California survey found that if employers knew the nature of the offense, willingness to hire changes. For example, 23% of employers are willing to hire a person with a drug-related felony, and 84% of employers are willing to hire an applicant with a misdemeanor offense.

So how do you get there? By waiting until later in the process to ask about criminal records. In Minneapolis, once "ban the box" was implemented, more than 50% of applicants with convictions were hired. In Atlanta, 10% of new hires between March and October of 2013 were those with a criminal history. And in Durham County, North Carolina, once the "ban the box" policy was passed, the number of hires of those with criminal records tripled.

Avoid Assumptions: Hear the Story

Don't assume "ban the box" means you can't ask about criminal history at all, or that you are obligated to hire someone with a criminal history. Instead, "ban the box" gives you the ability to get to know the candidate and assess job fit. Then, give the applicant the opportunity to tell you about any records that may turn up in a background check.

You may be surprised by the stories.

Scott Lewis for example, spent 19 years in federal prison for a double murder he didn't commit. An FBI investigation eventually revealed that a cop involved in the cocaine trade had framed Lewis. During one interview, before his exoneration, he shared his story with a potential employer and was hired.

The easy thing is to assume a criminal record means the person won't change.

Many employers have found that those with criminal records are model employees, being most dedicated and conscientious. Brad Friedlander, CEO of Red Restaurant Group noted, "A lot of doors are shut to [former prisoners], so when someone gives them an opportunity, they make the most of it." Many who have served their time in prison are looking for a way to reinvent themselves and create a better life for their family.

Fair chance hiring policies, like those President Obama has announced, create stronger communities and reduce recidivism rates. They can also providing employers with a new pool of qualified candidates to fill open jobs.

Do you support ban the box? Let us know @goodhiretweets #FairHiring #GoodHiring


Lauren Small

Lauren Small


Lauren Small is a content and social media expert who writes about hiring, onboarding, and HR best practices. Lauren comes by her HR insight honestly, having observed the culture at diverse employers Amazon, HubSpot, and GoodHire’s parent company Inflection.

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