A report issued last week by the American Civil Liberties Union implores the business community to help put people with criminal records–that’s one-third of adults in the U.S.– back to work, for the good of the economy.
According to a 2016 study by the Center for Economy and Policy Research, barriers to employment for people with a criminal history is costing the U.S. between $78 and $87 billion in annual GDP. And, as the ACLU points out, unemployment is the most significant factor in recidivism, leading to increased prison costs.
“By expanding the hiring pool to include people with criminal histories, companies can improve their bottom line, reduce recidivism and incarceration costs, avoid discriminatory practices, and increase public safety,” the report reads.
Several recent studies have found that people with a criminal record tend to keep their jobs longer, and can reduce a company’s rate of employee turnover. The latest literature includes a Northwestern University report on Criminal Background and Job Performance (2017), and an ongoing investigation by the Johns Hopkins Health Resource Center.
The ACLU cites Walmart and Koch Industries, both of whom have adopted ‘Ban-the-Box’ practices, as fair chance leaders in the business community. Companies that adhere to these policies do not ask job seekers to disclose criminal history until a conditional offer has been made. In the case of Walmart, a background check is only performed once someone has accepted an offer, and hiring teams and HR personnel are not made aware of any convictions disclosed– “only whether the candidate is eligible for hire or deferred for hire to a later date based on the final results of the report.” Candidates with a criminal history are allowed to participate in a review, providing additional information about education, and efforts at rehabilitation.
In addition to advocating for wider adoption of Ban-the-Box legislation, the ACLU advises companies to consider pair with local workforce development programs, whocan advise them on tax credits, offer case management for employees with criminal histories, and educate companies on state and local laws.
A major concern for employers is liability: in hiring someone with a criminal record, companies fear it will be difficult to get private malfeasance insurance for that individual, or that they will be found negligible if the employee harms someone else on the job. But according to the ACLU, liability risk is actually low for employers who follow the national Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. On the policy side, the ACLU advocates for the expansion of state laws that restrict employee liability. Several states have already adopted such legislation, including Texas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Tennessee.
Ultimately, argues the ACLU report, education is the key to reducing unemployment, recidivism, and prison costs: for every $1 spent on education, $5 is saved on correctional costs. The business community can help by partnering with local workforce development programs; offering tuition assistance; lobbying legislators to expand prison education programs, as well as educational institutions to ‘Ban the Box’ themselves.