Here’s Why You Should Recruit Ex-Offenders

Carrying seaweed at night is against the law in New Hampshire. In North Carolina, playing bingo for more than five hours straight can get you thrown in the slammer. Live in West Virginia? Don’t even think about using a ferret to help you hunt.

Breaking any of these silly laws can give someone a criminal record, which is one of many reasons why we need to change how we think about hiring Americans with these records. According to SHRM, American organizations will have 7.8 million jobs to fill by 2020. Meanwhile, almost one-third of the American working-age population has a criminal record.

Criminal records can follow applicants for the rest of their lives. The ACLU reports that 75% of ex-felons don’t have a job a year after release. At the same time, former inmates are much more likely to go back to prison if they can’t find a job.

That’s sad, you may think, but I’m here to find the best candidates for the job and my organization, not to reverse the country’s recidivism rate. Here’s the thing: recruiting formerly incarcerated applicants helps your company’s bottom line.

It’s not just good publicity. You’ll find loyal, hardworking employees who lower attrition rates. Modified AI can help you find candidates who deserve your attention, and as common attitudes toward ex-offenders in the workplace evolve, you can feel confident about giving candidates with criminal records a chance.

1. You Can Expect a Strong Work Ethic

Greg Gooch, a hiring manager for S&J Potashnick Transportation Inc., told the New York Times about his success with bringing on ex-felons. “They don’t want to go back to where they were.” When given the rare opportunity to prove themselves, ex-offenders almost always do. Employers from Total Wine & More to Koch Industries have committed to hiring ex-offenders and found that these employees were some of their most productive, engaged, and hardworking.

2. You Can Lower Attrition Rates

When Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) developed a recruitment program for ex-offenders, the company’s turnover rate went from 25% to 11%. ERI isn’t the only one. Employees with criminal backgrounds are in for the long haul, usually staying with their employers longer than their colleagues without records do.

Grayson Bakery has maintained an open hiring policy for over 30 years, and 65% of the employees there have been in prison. Greyston CEO Mike Brady noted that workers’ comp and insurance rates at the bakery are the same and turnover is lower than at analogous companies. Grayson’s hiring policies have helped it become a $20 million business.

3. Technology Can Help You Conduct Safe and Fair Background Checks

The prior-conviction check box on job applications acts as a blunt instrument that can hide both the reality of an applicant’s experience and other people’s feelings toward criminal records. Someone who did hunt with a ferret in West Virginia or got arrested for public intoxication on his 21st birthday has to select the same box as someone convicted of manslaughter. Most people wouldn’t have concerns about sharing an office with those first two applicants, but the box keeps them out of the candidate pool anyway.

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), you can reduce risk while giving potential candidates a fair chance. Hiring managers can program systems like Checkr to automate background checks while ignoring data on irrelevant convictions and flagging pertinent arrests. A hiring manager for a bank branch, for example, can weed out any applicants convicted of identity theft. According to LinkedIn, Lyft, Uber, and GrubHub are just a few of the businesses using Checkr.

4. Worst-Case Scenarios Are Very, Very, Very Unlikely

It’s understandable to have a gut reaction of “I’m not willing to put my organization and people at risk.” But once you look into research on the topic, you’ll see recruiting ex-offenders isn’t much of a risk at all. One study found that ex-offenders in North Carolina who found jobs had a recidivism rate of 5%. In Maryland, that number was zero.

5. Attitudes Toward People with Criminal Records Are Changing

Even if you’re on board with hires who have criminal records, you may be concerned with what your other employees would think if they discover a colleague’s background. However, times and viewpoints are changing. A SHRM report found that more than half of managers and non-managers surveyed were willing to hire someone with a criminal background.

6. Overlooking Ex-Offenders Shrinks Your Hiring Pool

Today, the country seems to have more jobs than people to fill them. In this kind of environment, ignoring a third of working-age adults can make your candidate search a long, difficult process. Remember, when job roles go unfilled for too long, employees take on extra work and stress, and companies lose money. So widen your hiring pool, and take an opportunity too many other businesses have missed.

Making hiring policies more inclusive to ex-offenders can seem, well, scary. In practice, though, those inclusive policies can lead your company to an untapped pool of talented, loyal, and productive hires. By giving others a chance, you can give your company a boost too.


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