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Hiring Ex-Offenders

Hiring someone who has been incarcerated may seem like asking for trouble. After all, they already have proven themselves to be a problem. But wait. Before you toss that application or resume aside, let’s talk about what they can bring to your business.

Ex-offenders are a ready pool of eager workers, which is getting difficult to find. One reason why you shouldn’t simply dismiss them: ex-offenders want a job. Not just because they may be required to get one as part of their parole conditions, but because they do not want to go back to the life that got them into trouble in the first place. To stay out of prison and rebuild their life, they need that job and for someone to give them a chance. Let’s face it. The recidivism rate is high and a large part of it is because after finding that leaving their past behind is extremely difficult, they return to their old life. You can make that re-offending rate drop significantly by giving them a job. You’ll not only be doing a good thing for that person but for society at large. And believe me, the people leaving prison are not thinking, “I can’t wait to go back.”

The first step in giving someone a second chance is to interview them. Treat them like any other interviewee but don’t be afraid to ask about their past. It may feel a bit awkward, but the ex-offender that is ready to change will welcome the questions. Ask the right kinds of questions though. Of course, you want to know why they went to prison. But ask them how they spent their time. Did they have the opportunity to work, educate themselves, join some sort of rehabilitation project? Keep in mind that not every prisoner will have had these opportunities depending upon the prison. The point of the question though is that if these sorts of opportunities presented themselves, did they take advantage of them? If they did, then they were willing to take part in their own rehabilitation and change. Also it means that they may have been able to learn some useful skills that they will need for your job opportunity.

What have they been doing since they were out? Do they have community ties? Joined any local programs for ex-offenders? Again being active in changing their life for the better is a good sign.

Do they take responsibility for their actions or deeds that led them to prison? If so, it’s another very good sign. Anyone that makes excuses, blames others, or otherwise ducks accountability may not be ready to take the steps needed to stay out of trouble.

Take the time to consider the time served. If they served say 20 years and the crime they committed took place when they were 19 or 22 or whatever, well, I wouldn’t want to be judged on something I did 20 years before. You probably wouldn’t either. Think about giving them that same courtesy. If the time served is say a couple years then you really want to question them on how they think they have changed and what they would have done differently. Just remember, you want to talk about their past but don’t make the whole interview about it. Give them the chance to be a normal interviewee and ask the regular questions as well.

Next, you want to take some time to think over their candidacy like any other, but with a couple other considerations. First of all, no one is going to expect you to hire a bank robber to handle your accounts, but you should consider the safety and well-being of your business as well as employees. This is why you interviewed them about their past so you could make this determination. So maybe you don’t want a former thief handling money as a cashier but could they stock shelves? Of course! Maybe the position they interviewed for isn’t ideal but do you have a position that would be perfect for them?

You also want to consider time served again. Even 10 years can be a long time in terms of technology, so think about the position and whether their skills are up to date enough for the job. If not, can you or are you willing to put in the extra training (more on this later)?

So you’ve decided to hire an ex-offender. What can you expect? A loyal, reliable, motivated employee. It’s true. They tend to outrank their peers in these areas. You can also expect to have to work on mutual trust and respect with them. Remember that neither of these two things came easily, if at all, in prison. Be willing to work together on these and you will help to build a better employee and person.

Keep in mind that hiring an ex-offender doesn’t have to be totally selfless. You will likely be eligible for Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC). If you’re not familiar with WOTC, it is Federal tax credit given to employers that hire job seekers that face consistent barriers to employment. You do have to apply for the credit and receive a certification before declaring the credit so take advantage of it!

On the fence about a hire? How about the Federal Bonding Program? The Federal Bonding Program is a business insurance policy for employers that protects against any loss of money or property due to employee dishonesty. It’s a free service offered by the Department of Labor. Once your candidate has a job offer with a start date, you can get the bonding process started.

Is your candidate lacking some of the skills needed for the job? Don’t let that make you pass them over if they are a good fit in every other way. On-The-Job Training (OJT) is an option. OJT provides funding to an employer that trains employees at its workplace. Call your local Career Center to find out if you qualify for an OJT position.

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