RAND Corp. research finds incentives can encourage hiring of workers with nonviolent felony convictions

nonviolent felonyEmployers are more likely to hire those with nonviolent felony convictions if they are given financial incentives to do so. At least that’s according to research conducted by the RAND Corp.

In its report – Breaking Down Barriers: Experiments into Policies That Might Incentive Employers to Hire Ex-Offendersreleased last year, the nonprofit institution published the results of a survey of 107 employers from 34 states. Most were from smaller companies of less than 100 employees. The majority – 58 percent – of respondents were owners or managers, with human resource professionals making up 21 percent.

Although the response rate to the number of surveys sent out was low – just 3.4 percent – it gave insight into methods that may help encourage companies to hire more formerly incarcerated job seekers.

The survey began by telling the story of two job seekers, each with a nonviolent felony conviction and the technical skills required to do the entry-level job being applied for. Although they have similar qualifications, each comes with the support of a different form of financial incentive if  hired. One candidate would provide the benefit of a tax incentive and the other an employment agency discount.

Respondents ranked the “applicants” based on whether they would advance the applicant to the next level in the hiring process or opt out and not consider them for employment. The survey also gave a list of issues that might cause concern in the hiring of someone with a criminal record and asked that these be ranked as well.

Two types of hiring incentives

Let’s introduce the two job seekers, what incentives they bring, and how these incentives would entice employers:

Applicant with a tax incentive   This incentive would offer employers a tax credit for 25 percent of an employee’s wages – up to $2,500, an amount similar to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The tax credit would be applicable after the person worked 120 hours. Based on that scenario, 59 percent of the employers surveyed would be willing to consider hiring a person with a nonviolent felony conviction. If the tax credit were doubled to an amount of up to $5,000, or 40 percent of the person’s wages, the percentage of willing employers would rise to 77 percent.

Applicant with an employment agency discount fee   Since employment agencies are one way that companies hire entry level workers, RAND Corp. offered an employment agency discount fee as a second option. Forty-three percent of employers who were guaranteed a staffing fee that was discounted by 25 percent of the candidate’s hourly wage were likely to consider hiring a candidate with a nonviolent felony conviction. Raising the discount to 50 percent increased the number of willing employers to 60 percent. If the agency initiated a guaranteed worker replacement program, whereby it replaced an employee who didn’t work out with another one, the percentage of willing employers rose to 72.5 percent.

Employer concerns about hiring someone with a felony

As part of the survey, employers were also asked to rank seven concerns they might have about hiring workers with a felony conviction. These were, in order of the highest concern:

  • That the candidate might have had a violent felony conviction
  • Whether they had the skills necessary for the job
  • If there would be any workplace liability issues
  • The amount of time that had passed since the felony conviction
  • How the person will interact with clients
  • How they will interact with the company’s staff
  • The candidate’s ability to perform the work in a timely manner
Recommendations to improve hiring chances

As a result of what they learned, the RAND Corp. researchers offered recommendations to improve the chances of employment for those with felonies on their record. These recommendations are geared toward policymakers, employment agencies and organizations dealing with those in reentry.

  • Urge job seekers with felony convictions to use employment agencies that guarantee to replace candidates who don’t work out. Many agencies around the country have this guarantee in place and is something that employers surveyed were very interested in. The cost of losing an employee in terms of productivity and the effort to hire a replacement could be more than any savings offered as an incentive.
  • State governments should provide a way for employers to get information about a candidate’s former job performance. Companies often limit access to this knowledge, based on fears of a law suit. Especially in the case of those with criminal records, however, potential employers want and need information on the work performance and history of those they are considering.
  • Government agencies should reduce the amount of paperwork required to get a tax credit. The researchers determined that one of the ways to do this would be to have the forms prepared and submitted by a state government employment agency (like the California Employment Development Department, for example).
  • Ensure transportation to job sites. Employment agencies, reentry programs and probation and parole departments should work to make sure that employees have a way to get to work, since this is often a problem among this population.

Jails to Jobs book out on Amazon

PrintAt long last our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, is out and available on Amazon.

Since 2008, Jails to Jobs’ workshops and job search and restorative materials have reached more than 3,000 inmates. In our workshops, we help soon-to-be-released inmates explore meaning and purpose in their lives while they learn about job search strategies. This book is a direct result of our workshops, the materials we disseminate and the feedback we have received from inmates and other experts in the field.

If you are a regular reader of our blog or visitor to our website, you will find even more tips and information that will help you or the formerly incarcerated individuals you work with achieve job search success.

From adjusting attitudes and finding a free tattoo-removal program to creating a job search team and using a JIST card instead of a resume, the 176-page book suggests unconventional strategies that you may not have considered before. It even includes ways to highlight the skills you or your clients developed in prison rehabilitation and reentry.

Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed offers insight into how to deal with your “record,” recommending an approach that can be very effective if handled sincerely and honestly.

In addition, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed shows applicants how to convince employers that hiring them makes financial sense – based on tax credits and a government bonding program. It also includes job-training resources for those who need an extra boost and information on self-employment for those who prefer a different path.

One reviewer on Amazon wrote, “There are so many specific suggestions in this book, if you do any 10 of them you’ll improve your chances of finding a job. If you seriously follow through the seven steps, you can be confident your growing job search skills will present your best self to the right potential employers. And – here’s a secret – you don’t have to be in reentry from detention to benefit from the sound advice in these pages.”

Yes, the book could work for anyone, and we’d be happy if people in the wider population find it useful. But it is those with criminal records who may need extra support, and for them this book has been written.

Although only recently released online, it is already being used to create a job training program in at least one state prison, and several others are interested in using it as well.

Whether you’re a formerly incarcerated job seeker, a job developer, a prison official or volunteer, or anyone who has a connection with those who have been released from prison and are looking for a job, we hope you’ll find this book useful.

To order a copy, please visit Amazon.com.

 

Kaitlyn Harger researches how visible tattoos affect recidivism

Kaitlyn Harger, PhD candidate, University of West Virginia

It’s certainly no secret that visible tattoos can be an obstacle to success, whether in a job search or in one’s personal life. But they can also land ex-offenders back in prison faster than those who don’t have them.

And we know this thanks to work done by Kaitlyn Harger, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of West Virginia, whose research focuses on the general economics of crime and recidivism. But among her most interesting findings so far is what’s she’s learned about the effects of visible tattoos.

In a paper entitled “Bad Ink: Visible Tattoos and Recidivism,” Harger examines whether visible tattoos affect recidivism rates. Of course, she admits in the intro, that it may not be the tattoos themselves, but the lack of ability of those who sport them to obtain employment, one of the best ways to keep people from returning to prison.

She used data from the Florida Department of Corrections Offender Based Information System to compare the amount of time that those displaying visible tattoos were able to remain out of prison with the amount of time for those having no tattoos or tattoos that could be covered by clothing.

The data was for all inmates released from Florida facilities during 2008, 2009 and 2010 – a total of 97,156 people, with 88% of the sample male, 50% white, 46% black and 3.6% Hispanic. It included not just such demographic data as gender, race and age, and a list of offenses, but also information on the type and body location of all of the inmates’ tattoos.

While 22% of Harger’s sample population had visible tattoos on their head, face, neck or hands, 63% had them on any of those places plus their arms or legs. Arm and leg tattoos would be visible if the person was wearing a T-shirt or shorts, which might be the case in certain jobs, including construction worker or a lifeguard.

What she found was that the expected length of time between release and reincarceration for inmates with tattoos in general was 32.4% less than those without tattoos. And the expected length of time between release and reincarceration for those with tattoos on the head, face back or hands was 27.4% less than those with tattoos in other places.

Of course, as she mentions, this could be due behavioral factors. For example the fact that someone chose to get a certain type of visible tattoo might be one of the ways they indicate a commitment to a criminal lifestyle.

Regardless of the reason, visible tattoos are costing states and the Federal government a tremendous amount of money. In the case of Florida, ex-offenders with visible tattoos return to prison 419 days earlier than those without. At $47.50, the average daily price of housing an inmate, it would cost an additional $19,903 per year per inmate with a visible tattoo or a total of about $418 million over the three-year time period she studied.

To read the entire research paper, click on this link.

 

Root and Rebound guides employers in hiring the formerly incarcerated

Sonja Tonnesen, Alton (Coach) McSween, and Katherine Katcher

Root and Rebound’s Deputy Director Sonja Tonnesen, community partner Alton “Coach” McSween, and Founder & Executive Director Katherine Katcher.

Root and Rebound, a Berkeley, Calif., based legal advocacy nonprofit organization, has published the Guide for California Employers: Hiring People With Criminal Records.

Using a question-and-answer format, this 13-page guide lays out all the basics that California employers interested in hiring those with criminal records need to know. It covers everything from what they can and can’t ask applicants based on federal and California state law to the ins and outs of background checks.

It includes advice on how to weigh the risk of hiring someone with a criminal record, while at the same time protecting their rights. There’s a special section on benefits and incentives for employers that includes such things as the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program. It’s available for free on the Root & Rebound website.

Root & Rebound is a legal advocacy organization completely focused on reentry. “As far as we know, we’re the only legal advocacy organization devoted solely on improving the lives of newly released people across many areas of law,” says Sonja Tonnesen, deputy director.

“We’re reentry generalists—we advocate for laws to be fairer, and to support people with criminal records in achieving stability. Like a general practitioner is in the medical field, we ask holistically what a reentering person’s needs are to be healthy and stable, and we work alongside our clients to create realistic reentry and advocacy plans that will support their success and achieve their goals.”

The idea for the Guide for Employers came about from dealing with an employer who wanted to hire one of Root & Rebound’s clients but had a lot of questions about the legal implications. So the staff members decided to create a manual to help others who would need the same type of information.

The nonprofit was started in October 2013 by Founder & Executive Director Katherine Katcher and Tonnesen, two recent graduates of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. Their goal is to reduce barriers and maximize opportunities for those in reentry. They also work with a senior advisor who is ar reentry attorney based in Los Angeles and a growing legal and support team.

Katcher and Tonnesen spent last fall meeting with professionals – other attorneys social service providers, formerly incarcerated advocates, academics and other reentry-focused individuals – to better understand the needs and gaps in reentry and to create a strategic plan. They began taking on clients at the beginning of 2014.

Expecting to take on only five clients in its first year, by mid-summer they had represented nearly 15 individuals on their legal issues in reentry, as well as provided legal advice and information to many others.

The organization’s next big project is a “Legal Rights in Reentry” manual intended for those in reentry and their advocates—the first of its kind in California, and one of the first in the country. The manual covers eight areas of law—employment, housing, obtaining identification and other key documents, credit and debt (related to a conviction), family law, probation and parole, public benefits and continuing education.

Some of the information in the manual is a direct result of what the attorneys learned in their dealings with clients as they helped them face the multitude of roadblocks they encounter.

The manual will be available on Root & Rebound’s website in November or December. The organization plans to do a training program connected to the manual with workshops at government agencies and other nonprofits that interface with people who were formerly incarcerated.

To learn more about what Root and Rebound is all about, visit the organization’s website at. http://www.rootandrebound.org