The Next Step For Criminal Justice Reform—Jobs
By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr, president and CEO of the Society of Human Resources Management
One in three working-age adults has a criminal record—more than have college degrees—and one in 100 currently is in prison. It is not just families who are hurt: over-incarceration damages our businesses and economy.
Last year, Congress made history with the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation that aims to revise prison and sentencing laws and do more to prevent recidivism.
But it will never live up to its promise if people leaving prison remain barred from the workforce. Almost 700,000 of them will be released this year to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. One year later, 75 percent will still be looking for work.
Studies show that recidivism is closely linked to unemployment. So when employers overcome their fears to consider candidates with criminal records, they are doing a service to society. When ex-offenders are rejected from work, we are resentencing them to a life of instability and hardship. And we are wasting a vast, willing, trainable segment of the workforce during a time of critical skills shortages and ultralow unemployment.
The “next step” of the First Step Act is for business leaders to act. As the voice of all things work, SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, has teamed up with Koch Industries, Inc. on the Getting Talent Back to Work campaign, which calls on corporate executives and association leaders to pledge to give individuals with criminal histories a fair chance at gainful employment.
A diverse coalition representing more than 50 percent of the workforce has signed the pledge—including Koch Industries, Inc., American Staffing Association, National Retail Federation, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A growing number of private employers, such as Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, Butterball Farms, and Checkr, are taking the pledge too.
CEOs may worry about pushback from their human resources team, which must be rigorous about safety and compliance. The good news is that SHRM/KII research shows that nearly half of HR practitioners believe having a criminal history should not be a deciding factor in hiring. I expect that number to grow as more employers develop formal policies and strategies for hiring workers with criminal records. To help them, SHRM developed the Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit, offering best practices for screening and evaluating these candidates.
Giving a second chance to people who want to reenter society is a win-win-win. It decreases the risk of recidivism, promotes a valuable U.S. talent pool, and helps reduce the growing skills gap.
People who have made mistakes want and deserve the dignity of work. We hope you will join us and sign the pledge today.