ACLU Report Makes Business Case for Hiring Formerly Incarcerated People

June 8, 2017 3:30 pm

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union and its Trone Private Sector and Education Advisory Council today released an investigation into the successes of corporate policies geared to giving formerly incarcerated Americans a fair chance at re-entry. The report, ‘Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Jobseekers Benefits Your Company’ is being released at a convening of top criminal justice reformers, including Google, Total Wine and More, Ford Foundation, and Open Society Foundations hosted by Columbia University’s Center for Justice and Tamer Center for Social Enterprise.

The report was prepared with input from business community leaders Koch Industries, Total Wine & More, Wal-Mart, as well as advocacy and community based organizations working in reentry. It finds that higher loyalty, lower turnover, and reduced training and recruitment costs make formerly incarcerated job seekers an appealing prospect for employers. New data from Total Wine & More demonstrates that turnover rates are at least 12 percent lower for employees with criminal records.

“Giving formerly incarcerated applicants a fair chance is a win-win. It’s a good deal for the economy, for communities suffering under mass incarceration, and a good deal for businesses looking for a competent, effective, and loyal workforce,” said Jeffery Robinson, Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality at the ACLU. “The business community can lead the way in shaping policy to allow Americans to leave incarceration behind and live as upstanding community members.”

“We banned the box on employment forms at Total Wine & More because it was the right thing to do, and it’s been a great thing for the company. Returning citizens appreciate having a second chance and work hard to make the most of it,” said David Trone, owner of Total Wine & More. “We’ve always had a very low turnover rate, and the retention rate with returning citizens is even higher than with other employees. Lower turnover leads to better customer service and increased loyalty, two keys to success in retail. I’m excited to share our experience with other business leaders.”

“At Koch Industries, we decided to remove the question of criminal history from our job applications. This aligned with our desire to find the best employees regardless of past mistakes. Employers are engaged in a global competition for talent and need the best employees, not just the best employees without a record. We have hired individuals with criminal records as employees for decades by getting to know them as a candidate first, and looking into their background only after they have received a conditional offer,” said Mark Holden, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Koch Industries. “These employees have been humble and diligent contributors, and we encourage other employers to think about hiring differently. It is a win-win proposition for the company and the employee seeking a second chance. This report will serve as a helpful guide.”

“As leaders of the business concerned with reforming the criminal justice system, we have a responsibility to create pathways to opportunity for those most in need of a second chance,” said Clay Bennett, owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. “Business can and should see fair chance hiring as a means to strengthen their business while strengthening their community.”

“This important report highlights the enormous value — both to business and society overall — of creating pathways to employment opportunities for the millions of talented and qualified Americans who have criminal records,” said Roberta Meyers, director of the National HIRE Network project at the Legal Action Center. “The Legal Action Center, along with our partners at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Workrights Institute, were honored to work with the Advisory Council to share best practices on employing formerly incarcerated individuals.”

“To end the cycle of mass incarceration, we must eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment opportunities faced by people with criminal histories,” said Dariely Rodriguez, director of the Economic Justice project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “This report will be an important resource for businesses looking to hire qualified people with criminal histories. Our communities benefit when people with criminal histories are given a fair chance to succeed.”

“Equitable and dignified re-entry is essential to our national economy and democracy,” said Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California, Irvine. “We embrace these ideals in the education sector where we realize an education transforms not only the individual, but also her family and community.”

“Large and small businesses alike can reap dividends by providing second-chance opportunities to returning citizens,” said Janice Davis, Vice President and General Counsel of eWaste Tech Systems. “Our experience has shown returning citizens to be as reliable, if not more reliable, than other citizens without any criminal history. This experience leads us to conclude that individuals with criminal histories can make up a significant portion of a dependable workforce for the vast majority of employers.”

Seventy million Americans — one in three adults — have a criminal conviction. The report offers practical advice for employers looking to tap into this often overlooked talent pool, providing case studies, compliance recommendations, and hiring advice. It goes on to demonstrate the positive impact “fair chance” hiring programs can have beyond the bottom line by examining the links between post-incarceration employment opportunities, recidivism, and taxpayer correctional spending. The report stresses the importance of not simply creating entry-level positions but creating mobility by opening pathways to education both in correctional settings and alongside employment.

The report includes a toolkit written collaboratively with the Legal Action Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the National Workrights Institute that provides guidance to employers on how to develop and implement fair chance hiring practices. Other members of the advisory board include Mark Holden, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Koch Industries; Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund; and Paul Sagan, former CEO, Akamai Technologies, Inc.

The report can be found here:

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