Hiring As A Second Chance
You make a lot of potentially life-changing decisions when you’re a boss. You promote someone — or you have to let them go. You give someone a raise. You send a new product into the world.
But none of these has been as life changing as the times my partner and I have been able to give a job candidate a second chance at life simply by hiring them. These are employees who were once in prison or rehab or who came to us from a sober living house. In too many cases, having those experiences on a job record has proved detrimental to career opportunities. In fact, according to the National HIRE Network, “Nearly 75% of formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed a year after release.” And when 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, that’s both a disaster and an opportunity that’s currently being wasted.
Fortunately, many large companies — like Walmart, Starbucks, Home Depot and more — have changed their hiring practices to include people with criminal records. And in the case of our small business, every time we’ve hired someone with a criminal record or who has gone through rehab, we’ve been paid back with exceptional productivity, increased loyalty and overall great morale. For the employees, it’s meant a chance to prove themselves and to excel, setting them up for a successful future.
Here are some key reasons it makes sense to give people a second chance — and how you can do the same in a way that offers the best path to success for everyone.
Employment lowers recidivism rates.
Here’s a shocking fact: According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, 83% of state prisoners were rearrested during the first nine years after their release. Is that because they’re hopeless career criminals? Maybe for a few. But studies consistently show that lack of education and lack of employment are linked with recidivism rates. Basically, you can help people stay out of jail by giving them a job. This doesn’t apply to just any employment — if people only have fast-food job options, that does not lower recidivism rates. But if they can get jobs in construction or manufacturing, or in jobs that offer the potential for growth, that correlates with a decrease in returns to prison.
You get hard work, dedication and gratitude.
Our experience mirrors those of other small businesses: The people we’ve hired have demonstrated hard work and dedication. According to the ACLU report “Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company,” when employers hire ex-offenders, “Retention rates are higher, turnover is lower, and employees with criminal records are more loyal.”
One of our best employees is an ex-offender with a wife and children, who humbly and happily started his career with us at the bottom of the totem pole: on the assembly line. One year later, he had done such outstanding work that he was promoted to line manager. He’s now been with us two and a half years and is such a role model that we profiled him in a Father’s Day post on our company blog!
People who have gone to rehab for drug or alcohol issues are already outstanding in one key way: Although 40 million Americans meet the criteria for substance addiction, only 10% receive treatment.
You can help change the story.
You can provide the example that ex-offenders and people just out of rehab are not only worthy of employment, but they can also benefit the whole community with increased productivity and even safety.
One very dramatic example: In the past, prisoners who worked alongside professional firefighters during California’s wildfires were barred from becoming firefighters themselves due to their criminal records. But this fall, in the midst of the worst wildfires the state has ever seen, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill to expunge the records of certain prisoners (violent and sex offenders excluded), making them eligible for EMT training en route to becoming professional firefighters.
You can get a tax break.
Another big incentive may be money. Note that this only applies to hiring an ex-offender, but the benefits are pretty significant. Thanks to the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, employers who hire a qualified ex-felon can claim a tax credit of up to 25% of their first year’s wages if the employee works at least 120 hours, and 40% if they work over 400. If you’re a small business owner, your state or municipality may also offer additional incentives.
How to make it work: Set them up to succeed.
Just throwing someone into a new job and letting them sink or swim is a recipe for disaster. Here are ways you can have the greatest possible chance of success:
• Give clear guidelines and expectations. Everyone needs a well-defined job description and clear targets to hit, and this is particularly true for ex-offenders and those recently out of rehab.
• Make sure there’s a true pathway for growth so they don’t feel stuck in a dead-end job or that they’re being patronized with menial tasks.
• Pair them with a mentor who can offer guidance and answer questions.
• Encourage them to continue their education, and/or provide workplace training that can equip them for increasing responsibility.
• Schedule regular one-on-one conversations to hear how it’s going and to give feedback.
Giving someone a second chance doesn’t mean doing them a favor. It means seizing a great opportunity that has huge potential benefits for both sides.