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 returning citizens. As an aside, the term “Returning Citizen,” is a positive way of describing an individual released from prison after serving the executed time. The labels such as ex-felon or ex-offender create a negative and discriminating environment. Americans are astonished at the high recidivism rates without considering their connection to the high unemployment rates for our returning citizens. An employed individual is usually less likely to commit another offense.
The returning citizen 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. An employer after receiving the information at that point 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 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. The adoption of such reforms would affect the employment numbers regarding ex-offenders and certainly reduce the recidivism rate in the United States.