With almost 1.5 million Americans behind bars, there’s a good chance someone in your social circle knows someone who’s been to jail — or has even been incarcerated themselves. But ex-inmates still face a struggle once they’ve been released, especially when it comes to finding a job.
According to research done by the Prison Policy Initiative, the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people hovers over 27%. That’s higher than the overall American unemployment rate has ever been, even during the Great Depression when it rose to 25%.
Meanwhile, evidence suggests that smooth re-entry, including employment, is one of the best ways to thwart recidivism In one study, prisoners who were given enhanced job-readiness training showed significantly less likelihood of rearrest than those who did not.
As a small business owner you want to make decisions that will maximize your bottom line — and create the kind of company culture that matches your values. Hiring ex-offenders can help you achieve both aims. Here’s how.
1. You can help someone get back on their feet
Although ex-prisoners face staggering unemployment rates, it’s not because they’re not looking for work. Rather, it’s often due to discriminatory hiring practices that keep them from getting the jobs they need to get their lives back in order.
In a survey of hiring managers, researchers at Arizona State University found that a criminal record was one of the most deeply negative factors a job applicant could have — worse than partial or total unemployment or being a welfare recipient. In many cases, a conviction disclosure amounts to an immediate disqualification, an injustice that’s given rise to the Ban the Box campaign, which seeks to do away with the tick-mark application question.
By hiring an ex-offender, you have the chance to make a difference in someone’s life and help them overcome the systemic obstacles that create these statistics. And since ex-convicts are so badly in need of employment opportunities (and grateful to get them), they often make diligent workers once they’re hired.
2. Ex-offenders have a lot to give
In writing this story, we talked to several small business owners who’d taken a chance on hiring an ex-convict. Not one of them had anything but glowing reviews of the experience.
Matthew Ross, COO and co-founder of The Slumber Yard, said that the ex-felon he and his partner hired turned out to be one of their best employees: respectful, hard-working and dedicated. “He's usually one of the first to arrive and the last to leave,” Ross said. He thinks his employee’s devotion is at least partially due to the sense of gratitude he feels for the hard-to-come-by opportunity.
Obviously, the skills you need to help your business succeed will depend on your industry. But former prisoners come from all walks of life and all levels of education, and if you dismiss a candidate based on conviction alone, you could be missing out on great talent.
3. You can get a tax break
If the touchy-feely side of hiring ex-offenders doesn’t speak to you, dollar signs might. And thanks to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, or WOTC, there’s a monetary incentive for taking a chance on an applicant who’s been to prison.
The WOTC rewards employers who hire candidates from a variety of target groups that struggle to find employment, including ex-felons. The IRS defines a qualified ex-felon as anyone who is hired within one year of being convicted of a felony or released from prison after serving a sentence for a felony. If the employee works at least 120 hours, you can claim a tax credit of up to 25% of their first year’s wages; if they work over 400, you can claim up to 40%.
4. You’ll strengthen your community
Small businesses are hugely influential to the U.S. workforce and American culture as a whole. In fact, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and small businesses are responsible for the bulk of new job creation.
That means that as a small business owner, you have a lot of power. By hiring an ex-convict, you’re putting otherwise idle hands to work, which could keep new crimes from happening and make for safer, more functional communities.
Plus, hiring ex-convicts and other stigmatized applicants injects humanity into corporate policy and brings kindness back into business. And doesn’t a kinder world sound like a better, brighter place to live?
From an article by: JAMIE CATTANACH - MAY 30, 2019