Imagine You’re Filling Out a Job Application
You’re answering in-depth questions about yourself on why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. You’re intelligent, driven, a hard worker, and you meet all the necessary requirements for the position. But then you get to the question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
You click ‘yes’ and just like that, you’re out of the running. Unfortunately, this is the reality that many people with a criminal record face. It was also the case for our co-founder Teresa Hodge. Qualifications, education, work experience, all of it became irrelevant as soon as she clicked ‘yes’ to that one question.
Even worse, most people in these circumstances don’t get a chance to explain themselves or share their stories or circumstances. A simple yes or no answer dictates their entire future.
As you might imagine, this makes it incredibly difficult for former prisoners to re-enter society. Without a job, these individuals can’t support their families, find a home, or start living a normal life again. They become stuck in a place where they have a mountain of responsibilities and no way to tackle any of them. And the sad reality of it is that most of them won’t be able to climb their mountain and instead will return to the system.
In fact, 76% of people who go to prison will return within five years.
How Shutting People with Criminal Records Out of Job Opportunities Impacts Everyone
So, what exactly does this mean for the rest of society? Does this have a negative impact on the communities we live in? Does this compromise our economy? Should we all take responsibility for this and does this affect public safety?
In short, yes.
In 65 Million “Need Not Apply:” The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment by Michelle Natividad Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, the pair discusses how using criminal background checks to filter through potential candidates actually causes more of a safety issue than people realize.
“As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety.” When employers allow former criminals to work for them through second-chance employment, they’re creating positive new opportunities for the entire community.
Basically, by not considering people with a criminal record for a job opportunity, you’re actually making public safety in your community a bigger concern. When people have a steady job that pays them living wages, they’re less likely to end up back in the criminal justice system.
In addition to creating a public safety issue, locking people out of jobs who have a criminal record is also detrimental to the economy. Rodriguez and Emsellem continue their argument stating that “No healthy economy can sustain such a large and growing population of unemployable workers, especially in those communities already hard hit by joblessness.”
Now, you might be asking yourself, how many people does this issue actually impact? Today, nearly one-third of the adult working-age population has a criminal record. That means that in your community, potentially one-third of the people who are of age to work could be disqualified from a job because of their criminal record. As you can see, this issue impacts a lot of people.
Does Technology Play a Role in Lack of Opportunities?
It’s not a big surprise that technology is on the rise and machines continue to do jobs that many citizens once called their own. The shifts of technology in business happen very quickly, and as an employee or employer, it’s important to stay on top of it.
However, if you’re in the criminal justice system, oftentimes you don’t know about these technology shifts or the changes that are happening. You’re disconnected from the world and the new technology in it.
This can be a deterrent for many people who seek to re-enter the workforce. At Mission Launch, we do our best to help get people up to speed on technology so they have the best odds to land a job opportunity.
Necessity Entrepreneurs are on the Rise
Because of the lack of job opportunities and options for people with a criminal record becoming an increasing problem, many people in this situation are starting to take matters into their own hands.
According to the book Necessity Entrepreneurs: Microenterprise Education and Economic Development by Jeremi Brewer and Stephen W. Gibson, necessity entrepreneurs are “individuals who start small enterprises out of necessity.”
We’ve started to see a rise in necessity entrepreneurs over the years. With a lack of other options and opportunities weighing so heavily on people with a criminal record, more and more people are starting to take charge in the only way they can create opportunities for themselves.
4 Ways You Can Help
While it’s great that many individuals are becoming entrepreneurs, any entrepreneur or small business owner will tell you that the risky undertaking is not for the under-resourced and those lacking access to growth capital. In most cases, individuals leave prison and they don’t have a good support system to help them get back on their feet.
Here are four ways you can be supportive in your community.
Use Different Language
Humanizing language is important in order for us to move forward. Language matters and it’s important to stop using the words “ex-offender,” “ex-felon,” “convict” when you’re referring to someone. When you can, use their name. That’s who they are, a human being, and that’s how you should refer to them.
Find your Wednesday Wisdom
Every Wednesday take the time to find, read, and share an article on social media regarding former prisoners re-entering the workforce. Talk to people about an issue or topic and open up the discussion. Communication helps all sides of education. This is an easy step to help keep others informed and keep yourself up to date on what is happening in the world and our communities.
If You’re an Employer, Employ Someone
Be a second-chance employer. Help your communities and the people in it by showing that you won’t discriminate against potential new employees because they clicked ‘yes’ on a job application. When you help to become a leader in your community, others will follow.
Give All Applicants a Fair Chance
We must ask employers and cities to please remove the box (Ban the Box) from applications asking if a person has a record. Don’t disqualify people before they have a chance to compete and you get to know them for who they are today.
It’s a simple change in job applications to remove conviction history questions. This means equal opportunity for everyone and gives individuals a better chance to explain their stories and circumstances later on.
If you have more questions about how you can help or would like to know more about this criminal justice reform, please visit us at R3 Score to learn how hiring someone with a record can be made easier.