Anyone with a criminal record has known the anguish and frustration of trying to find a job upon release from imprisonment. An important question concerns whether justice is truly served by employment discrimination against former inmates. From the outset the former inmate is confronted with labels such as ex-felon or ex-offender, which immediately creates a negative and discriminating environment. Americans are astonished at our high recidivism rate without considering its connection to the high unemployment rate for former inmates. Studies have shown that an employed individual is usually less likely to commit another offense.
The former inmate knows well the glazed look in the interviewer’s eyes upon learning of the prior criminal record of the applicant. The interviewer’s mind has closed to any thought of hiring despite the applicant’s qualifications and his eagerness to work. The District of Columbia almost adopted a credible “Returning Citizens Anti-Discrimination Act.” The act would have prohibited an employer from asking questions about a prior record until a provisional job offer was offered to the applicant. After receiving the information, an employer could refuse to hire based upon the prior criminal record if there was a “relevant relationship” between the proposed job and the prior record. This act would have prevented the glazed look by the interviewer and would result in many more interviews that are prevented now by disclosing the applicant’s record in a pre-interview questionnaire.
There is hope, since other cities such as Boston and San Francisco have adopted such reforms.
Since 2010, eight states (Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Rhode Island) have enacted legislation to ban the box question about prior criminal record on job applications, citing the benefits to public safety of a fairer hiring process for people with criminal records. Two states (California and Illinois) have the policy via administrative directives, bringing the total to 10 states, thereby representing nearly every region of the country, that have embraced the policy.
The adoption of such reforms would affect the employment numbers regarding our returning citizens and certainly reduce the recidivism rate in the United States.