There are many reasons to hire someone with a criminal record, and considering this step is important for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. While many employers are open to the idea of hiring ex-offenders doing so requires looking at the organization’s hiring system and policies to create opportunities for candidates with a record to be considered. Having rules, such as not hiring candidates with certain types of offenses or offenses within a certain period of time, prevent great candidates from being able to explain their unique situations and can lead to frustration and rejection for those applying.

Central Iowa Works’ CIRCA program case managers work with individuals returning from prison in navigating the process of finding housing, a job, and accessing services. While individuals with a record have served their time, the consequences of their actions carry on as they try to reestablish themselves in the community, and sometimes these barriers are so significant that someone will reoffend out of desperation. Having a good job is key to a person’s ability to achieve stability and contribute to our society.

The CIRCA team shared these insights into what individuals with a criminal record experience as they apply for jobs and opportunities for employers to think about hiring best practices to attract more quality candidates.

Jobs are available but individuals with a record face many barriers to accessing those jobs.

Individuals with a criminal record often have the skills and strong desire to work, leading them to become loyal and hardworking employees. But certain requirements can leave them out of the market. For example, requiring a driver’s license can exclude a lot of candidates who have reliable transportation to work, but are still in the process of restoring their driver’s license, which often involves paying off significant debts. Many candidates also have physical or emotional disabilities. While these individuals can still perform the duties of the job well with some simple accommodations, they don’t know how to speak with employers about the accommodations they need or are worried about being judged as unreliable because of their record.

“Employers need to have a true understanding of what clients deal with,” says Diana Mata Corvera, a CIRCA case manager.

The application process can exclude candidates with a record from the start.

Automating or outsourcing the application process can also create barriers where one mistake causes a candidate to be rejected or a background check doesn’t accurately reflect a person’s offense. In addition, just looking at the resume might lead to inaccurate judgements, such as that a person moved around a lot when, instead, they were transferred from prison to prison. A violation on their record may be the result of missing curfew by a few minutes because of a required appointment.

“I wish employers gave individuals a chance to interview and let them explain their background in person face-to-face,” says Maha Swadi, a CIRCA case manager. “It’s better than just an application.”

Candidates don’t often have a chance to highlight who they are today.

One of the biggest challenges CIRCA case managers work with individuals on is confidence. Many individuals have been rejected so many times that they feel as though they don’t have a chance of finding a job.

If employers are open to hiring someone with a criminal record they could be clear up front about which types of offenses they won’t accept and to not ask about whether someone has a criminal record until the interview or job offer process, when the candidate has an opportunity to explain their background and how they’ve taken steps to change.

“Where someone is at now is a much bigger indication of what they are going to do at a job than where they might have been two years ago,” says Julianna Dubin, a CIRCA case manager.

The hiring process could provide opportunities for candidates to show what their mindset is now, what they’ve done to get on a better path, and their motivation and skills to do the job. This often requires entering a conversation with an open mind before making judgements.

Opportunities to collaborate

Rethinking a few parts of your hiring system can open up more opportunities for individuals with a criminal record to apply. Case managers who work with individuals with a criminal record can also make a connection to candidates who they trust and know are ready to perform well in the role. Working with a program like CIRCA also likely means that the candidate you hire will have some ongoing support to navigate any challenges. Get connected to the CIRCA program and hiring best practices by clicking the button below:

Learn about CIRCA

TAGS: Thriving Workforce

Sarah Welch

About The Author: Sarah Welch

Sarah Welch is the former Strategic Communications Officer at United Way of Central Iowa.