Incarceration rates in the US have skyrocketed in recent years. Today, 70 million Americans (or one in three adults) have a criminal record. And that criminal record can follow a person for decades, making them feel imprisoned long after they’ve served their time and paid their debt to society.
The formerly incarcerated are no different from any other American. They need stable, long-term employment to gain a sense of financial security, support themselves and their families, and feel like a positive, contributing member of their communities—all of which help lower recidivism rates and keep people from re-entering the prison system.
But having a criminal record presents a unique—and often demoralizing—set of employment challenges. Due to their criminal history, workers are often immediately ruled out for job opportunities, even when they’re qualified, and often without so much as an interview (studies show that having a criminal record reduces employer callback rates by 50%). These challenges, in large part, are the driving force behind fair chance hiring.
If you’re new to fair chance hiring and are considering implementing it into your organization, this guide should help you understand what goes into the process, the benefits that stem from it, and how you can get started today.
Defining Fair Chance Hiring
Fair chance hiring is built on the premise that everyone, regardless of their background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for.
Companies that practice fair chance hiring are able to tap into a larger pool of qualified, diverse talent with a wide range of experiences, better understand their customers, and ultimately, reach stronger business outcomes.
3 Key Benefits of Fair Chance Hiring
1. Create a more diverse and inclusive workplace
Most organizations want to create a diverse and inclusive environment. But the conversation around diversity and inclusion shouldn’t stop at race, gender, or sexual orientation. To build an inclusive workplace, the conversation needs to extend to people with criminal records.
In the United States, minorities are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white Americans (six times for drug charges). And while African Americans and Hispanics only make up approximately 32% of the general population in the US, they account for more than half (52%) of total people incarcerated.
If you refuse to hire people with criminal backgrounds, it has an inordinate effect on minority applicants, and, as a result, makes it much more challenging to build a truly diverse and inclusive team.
2. Gain a competitive advantageIn late 2018, the unemployment rate in the US dropped to 3.7%—the lowest rate in nearly 50 years. With unemployment rates so low, it’s a candidate’s market and many candidates will “play the field,” interviewing at multiple companies and considering numerous offers before they settle on the organization and opportunity that feels like the best (or most lucrative) fit. This can draw out the hiring process, making it more challenging for companies to find, source, and hire quality talent quickly and efficiently.
By embracing fair chance hiring practices, you extend your potential candidate pool to a mostly untapped group of diverse, talented, and eager talent. And because people with criminal records often have a significantly more challenging time finding and securing employment, you’re far less likely to deal with a drawn out hiring process, making it easier to build the best team in today’s competitive employment market—and keep up with the increasing demands of running a successful business.
3. Get a better return on your investmentWhen you invest in bringing an employee into your organization, you want to make sure you get a return on your investment and that you won’t spend a significant amount of time, energy, and financial resources training and onboarding a new team member only to have them underperform or leave for another opportunity.
Fair chance hiring practices offer a significant return on investment, both from a performance and retention perspective. According to a recent SHRM survey, 80% of managers surveyed said the value workers with criminal records bring to their organization is just as high (or higher) than workers without a criminal record, and a study of John Hopkins Health Systems & Hospital (which has employed hundreds of people with criminal backgrounds since 2000, making up 5% of their workforce) found that, over a four-year period, fair chance employees had a 43% higher retention rate than employees without a criminal record.
Hiring any team member is an investment, but when you practice fair chance hiring, you’re likely to get a better return on that investment.
Building fair chance hiring into your process
See beyond the recordPeople are more than the sum of their past mistakes. In order for fair chance hiring to work—for you and your potential employee—you need to be able to look beyond the charges to see the actual person.
Having a criminal record doesn’t mean a person is irresponsible, immoral, or likely to engage in criminal activity in the future. When you’re working with fair chance candidates, make it a point to see where they are today. They’ve already taken responsibility for their actions and fulfilled their legal obligations; what matters is that they’re qualified, prepared, and have the resources and tools they need to be successful in the role.
That being said, there may be some crimes that, because of their relevance to the role or your business model, immediately disqualify a candidate from being employed within your organization.
Before you start interviewing fair chance candidates, it’s important to identify any convictions that are relevant to the role or organization that would cause a candidate to be disqualified from the hiring process. And if a candidate falls outside of those parameters? They deserve as much of a fair chance to be hired for that role as anyone else.
Work with a sourcing partnerThere are a number of sourcing partners across the country, including Center for Employment Opportunities and Defy of Norcal, who work directly with fair chance candidates to prepare them for the hiring process through programs like job readiness courses and case management. Working with one of these sourcing partners is a great way to ensure you connect with high-quality candidates who are ready to hit the ground running.
Establish a training and onboarding program to set up your new employees for successIn most cases, individuals who’ve been incarcerated have limited access to technology and job training, and as a result, fair chance candidates may need extra onboarding and training support as they transition into their new role.
As you start incorporating fair chance hiring practices into your recruitment strategy, it’s important to establish a training and onboarding program to provide your new employees with the support they need to thrive in their new role. Set up individual or small group trainings to cover any policies, procedures, systems, or tools your new hires will need to understand in order to successfully navigate their work environment.
Establishing a mentorship program that pairs your new employees with more seasoned team members is another strategy that can ease the transition and improve performance and retention; having a single point of contact for fair chance employees can make them feel more comfortable in their role as well as provide a single point of contact for any questions, concerns, or additional training requests.
Create a company culture that supports Fair Chance HiringMake sure your organization knows and understands why you’re advocating for fair chance hiring practices. Make it a pillar of your company’s mission and values. Incorporate it into your diversity and inclusion initiatives. The more you open up the conversation about fair chance hiring, the more you’ll normalize it and the more it will be embraced by your organization.
Remember, there’s no need to reinvent the wheelThere are a significant number of organizations that want to get started implementing fair chance hiring practices, but they feel as though they don’t have the right strategies or processes in place to move forward.
While there are special considerations you’ll need to make in order to successfully hire and onboard fair chance candidates (like providing additional or more in-depth training), there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. You already have a successful hiring and onboarding process in place; instead of starting from scratch to develop a strategy for fair chance hiring, make adjustments to your current processes to better accommodate fair chance candidates.
Give yourself room to growLike any other procedural change, implementing fair chance hiring practices within your organization is going to take some trial and error. Give yourself room to grow. Be willing to learn, change, and evolve as you iron out the details and figure out how to best support your candidates and organization as you transition to fair chance hiring.
There are very few (if any) organizations that have been able to immediately overhaul their hiring process and seamlessly transition to a fair chance hiring policy. Don’t expect perfection; as long as you’re committed to removing employment barriers for previously incarcerated individuals and making your hiring processes fair for all, you’re moving in the right direction.
Be a part of the fair chance movementCriminal records are a barrier for qualified, dedicated candidates in finding employment, and a barrier for organizations looking to build the diverse teams they need for their businesses to thrive. By adopting fair chance hiring practices, you’re offering opportunities for financial stability, career advancement, and a sense of purpose for 70 million Americans—millions of American that deserve that fair chance.
To learn more about fair chance hiring, check out our Bounce Back program.