Berkeley Underground Scholars find systemic policy changes, not necessarily higher education, is key to ex-offender hiring success

Berkeley Underground Scholars

UC Berkeley campus building

A recent study at UC Berkeley by the Berkeley Underground Scholars found that a college degree isn’t as much of a benefit to previously incarcerated job seekers as one might expect. To overcome the hiring bias against those with criminal records the researchers recommend systematic change – change that would ensure that these individuals also have a fair chance at gaining employment.

The research was conducted by students Michael Cerda-Jara and Aminah Elster, along with David J. Harding, a sociology professor and director of the UC Berkeley’s Social Science D-Lab. Cerda-Jara and Elster are both active leaders of Berkeley Underground Scholars, an organization that paves the way to college for previously and currently incarcerated individuals and those impacted by the system.

Their research findings are significant, because it is estimated that more than one-quarter of all previously incarcerated people between the ages of 18 and 25 will enroll in higher education at some point after their release.

How the study was conducted

The researchers submitted 1,798 online job applications that used fabricated resumes and cover letters to potential employers across California. These employers were located in Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and San Bernardino.

The “applicants” – all men – included white, black and Latinx job seekers. They also each indicated a specific incarceration and education history, with some “applicants” having no criminal record, others having earned a bachelor’s degree before being incarcerated and still others having earned a bachelor’s degree after being incarcerated.

Can a college degree override a criminal record?

What the researchers discovered is that even with a college degree, those with a criminal record have a harder time getting called for interviews. In fact the callback rate for the study was 8% for those with a bachelor’s degree and without a record and 4% for those with a record who also had a bachelor’s degree – 50% less – regardless of whether they received it pre- or post-incarceration.

Changes that could help eliminate discrimination

Based on that reality, the UC Berkeley researchers recommend policy changes that go beyond Ban the Box, which still allows employers to investigate criminal record – just later in the hiring process. More systemic change is needed.

Here are their suggestions:

  • Institute anti-discrimination laws that protect those with criminal records, preventing their past from disqualifying them from a job, with certain exceptions.
  • Ban the investigation of criminal records from the hiring process.
  • Expand the ability for those with misdemeanors and some felony convictions to expunge them. A study done by Professors J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr of the University of Michigan Law School that was published last year in the Harvard Law Review found that the wages of those who get their records expunged go up on average more than 22% within the first year. They credit this to the fact that more people either find a job after being unemployed or find a better, higher-paying job.
  • Reduce the laborious process of obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation – the court order that declares a person convicted of a felony has been rehabilitated – and make it automatic.
  • Eliminate all bans on occupational licensing. An estimated one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. require some type of licensing, and some of these licenses cannot be obtained by those with a criminal record. Occupational licensing is determined at the state level, and an estimated 32,000 laws nationwide related to occupational and business licensing include a consideration of criminal records. Getting rid of this consideration would not only help those with records secure employment but would also reduce recidivism. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona, in fact, found that between 1997 and 2007, “the states with the heaviest occupational licensing burdens saw an average increase in the three-year, new-crime recidivism rate of over 9%. At the same time, the states that had the lowest burdens and no such character provisions saw an average decline in that recidivism rate of nearly 2.5%.” California made history last month when it passed California Assembly Bill No. 2147, a law that allows those who participated in a state or county fire camp to apply for expungement upon release. As a result, they will be able to seek a variety of jobs, including those that require an occupational license.
Editor’s note:

Completing online job applications and waiting to be contacted is commonly known to have a dismal payoff when it comes to obtaining an interview. This applies to anyone, whether previously incarcerated or not. Job seekers can and should implement more effective methods. How and when the candidate shares their record can make a huge difference.

And since most employers run background checks, it’s important for the job candidate to preempt the issue during a face-to-face interview, before the employer discovers it on their own. A job candidate being able to incorporate the fact that they have a bachelor’s degree as part of a face-to- face interview, especially if it was undertaken or completed while incarcerated or post-incarceration, can provide further evidence of their rehabilitation and transformation. It also indicates that their past incarceration does not define them.

Previously incarcerated job seekers can also improve their interview outcomes and success by following the advice in these articles: turnaround talk, turnaround packet, letters of recommendation and references may be key to helping ex-offenders find a job.

Getting Talent Back to Work initiative encourages companies to hire those with criminal records

Getting Talent Back to WorkIn a long-overdue effort, the Society for Human Research Management (SHRM) has launched Getting Talent Back to Work. This national initiative encourages companies to change their hiring practices to include recruiting those with criminal records.

Associations and companies that represent more than 60 percent of the U.S. workforce – the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Staffing Association and the National Retail Association, among others – have committed to the effort.

And you can too by signing the Getting Back to Work pledge.

Getting Back to Work follows the First Step Act, bipartisan criminal justice reform, passed by the U.S. Congress late last year. And it joins other longer running campaigns like Ban the Box and President Obama’s “Take the Fair Chance Pledge” in bringing national attention to giving those with a criminal record a second chance.

It’s time to eliminate the stigma of incarceration

“This is a group we, as business leaders, cannot afford to overlook as one in three adults in the United States currently has a criminal background,” says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM’s CEO. “Not only is it the right thing to do – to give a deserving person a second chance – but it is becoming imperative as businesses continue to experience recruiting difficulty at an alarming rate.”

Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association agrees. “Now is the time to quash the stigma of incarceration,” he says. “Employers need to embrace greater inclusivity when recruiting and hiring, and give qualified individuals a second chance at success in life – particularly when the U.S. labor market is the tightest in history.”

Not only is the labor market tight, but many companies say that people from this population make good, dependable employees. In a study by Northwestern University researchers found that employees with records have a lower turnover rate than those without. An ACLU report, “Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company,” came to the same conclusion.

And most managers and employees alike are willing to hire and work with people who have criminal records. A recent study commissioned by the SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute found that only:

  • 26% of managers and 14% of human resource professionals are unwilling to hire individuals with criminal records. (An additional 2% of H.R. professionals refuse to hire them.)
  • 13% of non-managers, 15% of managers and 26% of human resource professionals are unwilling to work with them. (Another 2% of H.R. professionals refuse to work with them.)
Why consider those with criminal records

A brief YouTube video produced by SHRM outlines why human resource managers should consider applicants with criminal records. The reasons for considering them are:

  • To address labor shortages due to low unemployment rates, an aging population and unavailability of skilled workers.
  • To avoid discrimination claims under state and federal law.
  • To reinforce fairness in our culture.
  • To reduce the social costs of recidivism.
  • To improve the GDP, which is reduced by $78 to $87 billion annually as a result of excluding formerly incarcerated job seekers from the workplace. States that lower recidivism by just 10% could save an average of $635 million annually.
Toolkit guides companies that want to hire those with criminal records

And so, beyond signing the Getting Back to Pledge, what can companies do to increase their hiring of formerly incarcerated job seekers and those with criminal records?

Based upon an extensive body of research and evidence-based practices from thousands of enterprises, SHRM developed a resource toolkit designed to guide businesses as they commit to hiring more employees with criminal records.

The “Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit: The Resources You Need to Advance the Hiring of Workers with a Criminal Background” takes people through the process and includes:

  • A quiz to determine how much one knows about background checks in hiring decisions.
  • Tips for using criminal records in hiring decisions.
  • Information on how to handle an applicant’s criminal record if it comes up in an interview.
  • Information on how to determine the nature and seriousness of an offense.
  • Tips for conducting a risk analysis of hiring someone with a record.

The toolkit also incorporates links to a wide variety of resources, including:

  • EEOC guidance and tips.
  • Ban the Box laws by state and municipality.
  • A Fair Credit Reporting Act Compliance Checklist.
  • A checklist for selecting a reliable Background Checking Company.
  • General resources on how to carry out an interview
  • Incentives and support, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program

Now you know that by hiring those with criminal records you can be part of a national effort to reinforce fair hiring practices, reduce the social costs of recidivism and improve the nation’s GDP. With that in mind, please help us spread the word among your colleagues and business partners, and encourage them to use the Society for Human Research Management ‘s Getting Talent Back to Work resources.

ESR offers Ban the Box resources that can help employers meet the challenge of compliance

ban the boxAs Ban the Box efforts increase across the U.S., it can be difficult to keep up-to-date on all the laws that have been passed by cities, states and counties. But it’s important for employers to do so, if they want to be in compliance with those laws.

Novato, Calif.-based ESR (Employment Screening Resources), a global background check organization, has created a Ban the Box Resource Center to help educate employers on how to deal with Ban the Box laws and regulations.

The resources include:

An interactive map of the U.S. Just click on any state to see if there’s a state Ban the Box bill or bills and when they were passed. It also includes all cities and counties that have Ban the Box legislation. According to the map:

  • 11 states – California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont – now have state Ban the Box laws for both public and private employers.
  • 10 states have no Ban the Box laws whatsoever.
  • The rest have either Ban the Box laws for public employees or for cities and/or counties.

A downloadable Ban the Box Resource Guide for States, Counties and Cities. This guide lists the 31 states and more than 150 cities and counties that have established Ban the Box legislation. The list includes links to the various bills and executive orders, so it’s possible to see the exact wording of the laws. It also includes Ban the Box laws created by several cities.

Several whitepapers. These include a general overview of the history and development of Ban the Box legislation and White House and private corporate efforts in this area. Another whitepaper outlines 10 steps that those with criminal records can take to help them get back in the workforce,

A series of infographics. These downloadable infographic reports highlight how California, Los Angeles and San Francisco have handled their Ban the Box efforts.

Together what ESR has created is a great resource for anyone who needs to be aware of Ban the Box laws, wherever they may be located. It might also inspire other city, county and state governments to establish laws of their own.

ACLU report lauds benefits of hiring ex-offenders

hiring ex-offendersYet another study confirms the advantages to companies of hiring previously incarcerated individuals.

The recently released report, Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company, was prepared by the Trone Private Sector and Education Advisory Council for the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to the report, the problem of joblessness among those who have spent time in prison or jail is immense and needs to be solved. More than 640,000 people are released from prison each year, and nearly 75 percent of previously incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after they’re released. And “joblessness is the single most important predictor of recidivism.”

This lack of employment by those who have been incarcerated has a dramatic effect on our national economy, reducing the U.S. gross national product by between $78 and $87 billion in a single year.

The report states that:

“Research by economists confirms that hiring people with records is simply smart business. Retention rates are higher, turnover is lower, and employees with criminal records are more loyal. Given the costs associated with turnover and recruitment, researchers have found that “employees with a criminal background are in fact a better pool for employers.”

The report includes case studies of several companies and what they have done to achieve fair chance hiring.

Company case studies highlighted in the report

­­­

Walmart – A case study of Walmart points out that the company has removed “the box” from its application forms and only runs a background check after a potential hire is given a conditional offer. The hiring manager and HR members are only aware of whether the applicant has been cleared for hiring and are not informed of the nature of their conviction(s).

Total Wine & More — Total Wine & More, with 127 superstores in 20 states, found that employees with criminal records had a 12 percent lower annual first-year turnover rate than those without. For cashiers it was 14 percent, merchandising employees 11 percent and wine assistants 11 percent.

eWaste Tech Systems — Richmond Va.-based eWaste Tech Systems created a comprehensive training program for the nearly 50 percent of its employees who have a criminal record. It also works with local workforce development center ResCare to provide services that these employees may need in their reentry efforts.

After showing what various companies have achieved, the report provides steps that others can take t0 create and maintain fair chance hiring:

  • Ban the box on job application forms and postpone asking applicants about their criminal history until further into the hiring process.
  • Consider each employee on a case-by-case basis, evaluating the nature of their crime and whether it’s related to the type of work they will be doing, as well as considering whatever rehabilitation efforts they have accomplished.
  • Conduct a proper background check by asking for only those convictions relevant to the job applied for. Choose a reputable agency, one certified by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), if possible. (The report includes a list of questions to ask an agency to ensure proper information is gathered.)
  • Make sure to comply with all state and federal laws and regulations, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and various state and local Ban the Box statutes that may apply to your area.
  • Be proactive in reaching out to qualified job seekers who might have criminal records.
  • Create a process for dealing with applicants who have criminal records, and train hiring managers in this process.

Follow these steps and join a growing list of employers – more than 300 signed the Obama White House Fair Chance Hiring Pledge in 2016 – who are improving staff retention rates, and ultimately their bottom line, by hiring formerly incarcerated individuals.

Northwestern University study finds ex-offender job retention rates longer than those without records

ex-offender job retentionA recent study by Northwestern University researchers should encourage employers who have considered hiring those with criminal records to do so.

A typical employee who has a criminal record is likely to have a psychological profile that is different from other employees, “with fewer characteristics associated with good job performance outcomes.”

Even so those employees are fired at about the same rate as other employees, and they tend to keep their jobs much longer.

The data covers the period from 2008 to 2014 and came from the client companies of a hiring consulting firm. These companies conducted pre-employment hiring exams that included psychological questions. The job seekers were applying to such entry-level white-collar positions as call center sales and customer service reps. About 27 percent of those with records had a higher than high school education.

The study stresses the fact that those with criminal records have such a difficult time finding employment is of serious policy concern. Some 650,000 people are released from prison every year (2013 statistics). And more than half of them are back in within three years. One of the primary reasons is that they can’t find legitimate jobs.

Initiatives such as Ban the Box legislation, EEOC regulations and Obama’s “Take the Fair Chance Pledge” have all helped provide a better chance for previously incarcerated job seekers, as have the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Federal Bonding Program. Still many employers are reluctant to hire people from this population.

Employees with records have lower turnover rate

In the study, however, employees with records had a 13 percent lower turnover rate, saving the company $1,000 per year for each of them hired.

The researches concluded that “having a criminal background makes an employee less likely to leave voluntarily, likely to have a longer tenure and no more likely to be terminated. Since involuntary turnover is by definition associated with weaker performance ….. and turnover costly, this evidence taken together suggests that employees with a criminal background are, in fact, a better pool for employers.”

There was some increased incidents of employment related misconduct leading to termination, but these tended to be in sales positions. Whether the behavior is related to higher stress caused by the demands of sales positions or inherent personality traits among some of those with criminal records that might make them incompatible with this type of job is unknown.

In spite of some positive statistics that might encourage more employers to hire job seekers with criminal records, the researchers admit that more study needs to be done. The employers were aware, for example, that the people they hired had criminal records, which may have affected the way they chose them.

Also, a decrease in discrimination against those with criminal records might give a broader population of ex-offenders a chance, thus changing the applicant pool which could affect the length of tenure.

Although more needs to be learned, two things are for sure. The more formerly incarcerated people get steady jobs, the less likely they are to return to prison. And they can be a good bet and worth hiring.