There is no city in the nation that’s growing faster than the population of 70 million Americans with criminal records.
For employers, there exists a real opportunity to disrupt the continuous cycle of quarantining humans. And for the sake of society at large, sustainable employment may not only represent our best opportunity to significantly disrupt recidivism and the growing population of Americans with criminal records, it may be our only option.
Of course, there are plenty of unemployed people who do not commit crimes. The suggestion is not that employment alone is a panacea for this national problem. But, there is no other immediate option to developing sustainable financial stability for ex-felons. The longer that former inmates remain unemployed following release, the greater the risk they will seek income through alternative means. Their fate impacts the fate of families, communities and ultimately society at large.
But, why should employers assume the risk of hiring exfelons?
Hiring Incentives: Ex-felons are no stranger to hard work. And they are grateful for the opportunity to earn a living. But there are additional bottom line incentives to employees who hire former inmates. Substantial tax credits are available for hiring ex-felons, such as the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Some states even provide partial wage reimbursement, additional tax credits, and other training funds for employers who hire ex-felons.
Employers who hire felons can also be eligible to obtain a free fidelity bond funded by the federal government to protect them against employee dishonesty or theft. More importantly, credible studies clearly indicate that ex-felons out of prison seven years or more have no higher rate of committing a crime than non-felons.
Employee Reliability: Ex-felons have far fewer options than conventional employees. Due to the scarcity of opportunities for ex-felons, many employers that hire them have lower turnover than with conventional hires. According to the Partnership for Safety and Justice, many ex-felons have a favorable employment and educational history.
Hiring Opportunity: The landscape of employable ex-felons is large. Ex-offenders on probation often have to maintain employment as a condition of release. Most parolees are drug-tested by their probation officer or halfway house at no expense to employers. Most parole officers and halfway houses welcome contact with employers of supervised felons. That supervision de-risks the employment opportunity and is an added value at no cost to the employer.
Economic Impact: Employers can make a considerable difference in transforming a criminal liability into a community asset. Unemployed ex-felons are at a greater risk of re-offending compared to employed ex-felons. Many exfelons turn to crime and return to jail (recidivism) because they can’t find a job paying a livable wage.
According to the VERA institute of Justice, the U.S. spends nearly 40 billion a year to house inmates. The average cost per state to house one inmate is31,286 per year. But if that one felon gets a job instead of returning to prison, he or she now contributes to the economy by more than $10,000 a year, according to a Baylor University study.
Crime Market Disruption: An estimated 70 million U.S. adults have arrest or conviction records based on Bureau of Justice statistics. Tougher sentencing laws, especially for drug offenses, have swelled that total. Society can’t afford to simply banish 70 million people from the workplace. Children of incarcerated adults are the highest at-risk group in America. Many follow in their parents’ footsteps, continuing the cycle of crime and fueling a criminal market pipeline. Children of felons are seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves. They are more likely (23 percent vs 4 percent) to be expelled or suspended from school than other children.
With more than 630,000 inmates released into neighborhoods across America every year, the community of ex-felons released each year is larger than the population of many major cities. Employers are already discovering the challenges of finding good employees without criminal records. Perhaps it’s time employers considered the benefits of hiring good employees who happen to be ex-felons.
Mike Green is an award-winning journalist, co-founder of ScaleUp America, consultant and leading voice on the innovation economy, economic inclusion and education.