Giving Applicants with Criminal Records a Fair Chance at Employment

August 10, 2023

NEARLY 77 MILLION AMERICANS HAVE HAD AN INTERACTION WITH THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM — or one out of every three adults. These individuals often have a hard time finding work, with 27% of ex-offenders unemployed in 2018 compared to just 3.9% of the general population that same year. The problem has only grown since the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost 60% of formerly incarcerated people out of work at the beginning of 2022. 

Formerly incarcerated people — on the road toward rehabilitation but facing obstacles to getting their lives back on track — not only deserve a second chance at employment, but also represent a massive candidate pool for the American workforce where hourly workers are in high demand. As organizations evaluate these candidates they often consider that hiring ex-offenders comes with the risk that they re-offend, which may hurt a company’s reputation or potentially risk the safety of customers and other employees. 

Fair chance hiring, a movement which supports conducting criminal background checks as late in the hiring process as possible, is a practice that can provide millions of Americans a second chance at work while still giving employers the confidence that they are not exposing their business to avoidable risk.

The importance of background checks

A background check is a critical part of many organizations’ hiring processes, as employers have an obligation to comprehensively assess a candidate’s criminal history before extending a job offer. Additionally, employers in certain industries may need background checks to ensure the person they are hiring has not committed a crime related to that industry, like a DUI conviction for a bus driver or a financial theft conviction for a potential bank employee. Understandably, employers are sensitive to these considerations when hiring those with a criminal record. 

However, with nearly 11 million job openings and only 5.7 million job seekers, employers need to balance previous hiring practices with the historically tight labor market. Employers should not prematurely exclude the 19 million Americans with felony convictions and the tens of millions with misdemeanors or other interactions with the justice system. 

By conducting a background check after a candidate has completed essential steps in the hiring process, employers can help ensure a reasonable evaluation of the applicant’s skills has occurred before assessing their criminal history. This helps reduce implicit bias and offers formerly incarcerated individuals a meaningful chance at employment. 

Benefits of fair chance hiring

Newly released individuals face many challenges as they try to reenter society and bias in the employment process makes it harder for them to find work and establish financial stability. Not having a job is associated with a higher rate of recidivism, meaning that stable employment is a crucial part of helping these individuals reintegrate into society and lowers the likelihood that they will reoffend. Studies show that fair chance hiring practices raise the probability of employment for those with convictions by about 30% and have increased employment rates of residents in high-crime neighborhoods, where workers with criminal records are more likely to live. 

In addition to reducing recidivism and providing financial stability to at-risk populations, fair chance hiring also provides employers a unique opportunity to fill vacant jobs, tap into a more diverse workforce, and reduce employee turnover. It can also be a strong complement to a business’s environment, social, and corporate governance (ESG) efforts. 

From incarceration to employment

Fair chance hiring policies and procedures do not eliminate the need for robust criminal background checks, as it is in every employer’s interest to ensure a safe workplace for both customers and other employees.  But they can also be powerful tools to help formerly incarcerated individuals turn their lives around for the better, end a cycle of recidivism, and get back on track to living their financial best. 

To learn more about the benefits of Fair Chance Hiring efforts, and how to enact these types of policies while still mitigating risk, visit the Equifax Newsroom to learn more here and here