As it turns out, lack of gainful employment is among one of the most significant factors in predicting recidivism. To some that might sound like a cop out, but it’s a reality borne out by research (PDF). Correlations between employment and recidivism aren’t exact, of course, but the influence of unemployment on the risk to reoffend can clearly be seen in the literature.
As it also turns out, one of the long-standing collateral consequences of conviction and imprisonment is the impact on future employability. For people with a conviction on their record – especially a felony – the chances of getting a living-wage job are significantly reduced.
This creates a vicious cycle in which a lack of employment contributes to criminality, but the availability of jobs is limited for those with a prior conviction.
How can we break out of this and change the dynamic so that once someone has paid their social debt, and has demonstrated that they’ve been rehabilitated, they’re welcomed back into the mainstream of society and allowed to work toward prosocial goals?
One way is for employers to stop immediately disqualifying applicants with criminal records.
The campaign challenges the stereotypes of people with conviction histories by asking employers to choose their best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, not past convictions. Since 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history, the impact of this discrimination is widespread and affects other aspects of life in addition to employment opportunity.
The idea is a simple one: Remove the check box from employment applications that requires applicants to disclose their criminal history up front, and instead allow them an opportunity to explain their past behavior in a face-to-face interview.
Although this has already become law for many public organizations and agencies, it wasn’t until recently that private companies were required to ban the box. Beginning next year, though, Target Corporation will be one of the major employers to stop asking crime questions as part of the initial application process.
I personally think this is a fantastic idea. If we’re serious as a society about reducing risk factors that contribute to crime, we need to give ex-offenders the opportunity to return to society as fully contributing, employed citizens.
The alternative is to punish law breakers in perpetuity, which ultimately serves no one, and may in fact make problems worse.
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