In a previous post, we discussed the recently signed FIRST STEP Act, which reduces sentences for thousands of nonviolent criminals and promises to provide shorter sentences for certain nonviolent crimes going forward. When it comes to a particular individual, the criminal justice system has two primary goals: punishment and rehabilitation.
The rehabilitation part really means getting the convicted person back into society as a contributing member, and by that, we typically mean helping him or her become gainfully employed.
In an article for CNN, Johnny C. Taylor Jr. writes, “nearly half of HR practitioners in the United States believe having a criminal history should not be a deciding factor in hiring.” As previously discussed, this suggests that most HR practitioners do NOT believe that.
But it is certainly not the case that nobody with a criminal record is employable. Here are some details that HR professionals should factor in when considering whether to hire someone with a criminal record.
Seriousness of the Crime
Many of the people impacted by the First Step Act were convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. These people are likely less of a concern to employers than murderers, for instance.
Nature of the Business
At the same time, the nature of the offense needs to be considered in the context of the business. A retail store should be wary, for example, of hiring someone with a shoplifting conviction. Banks should—and, in many cases, must by law—avoid hiring people convicted of crimes like fraud or embezzlement.
Likelihood of Repeat Offense
Does the criminal record reflect a one-off crime or a pattern of behavior? People make mistakes; if those mistakes are unlikely to be repeated, the applicant should certainly be considered a viable candidate.
Interview Process and References
There’s only so much you can determine from a human being based on paper. At the end of the day, hiring managers need to make a judgment call on the person they are hiring, and this should be influenced by an in-person meeting with the applicant, as well as discussions with references.
Beware of Antidiscrimination Laws
While there is generally no protection for people with criminal histories as a protected class, the government has found that some prohibitions against hiring people with criminal records may have an effect of discriminating against groups like African-American and Latino men. Your HR department or employment attorney should be consulted for the rules applicable to your business and jurisdiction.
The prospect of hiring someone with a criminal record raises some sticky issues. On the one hand, businesses fear they may be exposing themselves to risk—potentially predictable risk—by hiring someone with a criminal history. On the other hand, we like to believe that everyone deserves a second chance.