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Time to hire an ex-con? How former inmates could help your organization

Employers often ask job applicants before the first interview if they have had criminal convictions. This often disqualifies ex-prisoners who have been convicted of trafficking illegal drugs, multiple DUIs or other illegal acts.

Lack of employment opportunities might encourage the cycle of entering prison, leaving prison, feeling helpless outside and re-entering prison.

There is a growing movement to give such individuals a second chance in employment to keep them from getting caught in the cycle.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends analyzing the severity and type of offenses relative to job requirements. Another consideration is evidence of rehabilitation within and outside of prison. The movement’s detractors correctly note that ex-prisoners tend to go back to prison within five years. Major hiring choices include never hiring those with convictions or investigating convictions case by case.

An advantage of hiring ex-felons is that the U.S. Department of Labor provides a Work Opportunity Tax Credit to organizations hiring them. Some states, such as Idaho, provide similar incentives.

Another advantage is that some individuals with criminal histories are eager to get their lives together with the help of some work stability.

Employers can receive help from corrections programs and the Federal Bonding Program, which provides bonds for empployers who hire at-risk job seekers.

With more than 600,000 individuals released from prison every year, there is a large market of potential employees available for work.

The federal government does not ask job applicants about criminal convictions during initial screenings. Twenty-four states have similar laws. Idaho is not one of them.

Many states also have “fair chance” laws that require employers to not automatically drop ex-prisoners from hiring considerations. Employers have to do research on the ex-prisoners case by case.

Most practices for handling such workers are the same as those for all employees: Provide clear expectations, timely performance reviews, fair discipline, and appropriate compensation and incentives.

The main differences involve the need for work-time flexibility. Unexpected drug tests, probation-officer visits and court appearances might occur.

Costs and benefits have to be weighed. But potential benefits to society and skills gained to the hiring organizations might encourage more employers to hire convicts.

Gundars Kaupins is a professor of management in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. gkaupins@boisestate.edu. This column appears in the Nov. 16-Dec. 20, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).

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