Many Americans say they’re ready to do business with companies giving their employees another shot at a law-abiding life after they’ve been convicted of a non-violent crime.
Some 78% of customers say they are comfortable spending their money at a business that employs consumer-facing workers with non-violent criminal records, a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Charles Koch Institute found.
“We now know there’s little truth to the perception that customers will vehemently balk at the idea of shopping at a place that employs people with criminal records,” Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, said in a statement.
There might even be the opposite effect.
Customers weren’t scared off by possibly dealing with workers with a non-violent past — and many actually liked that an employer was giving people an opportunity to get back on their feet, according to Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management.
More than half of the 78% of customers who said they were comfortable doing business with non-violent ex-cons also noted they supported the thinking behind companies hiring them, Alonso said.
The fact that consumers are reporting these positive feelings about ex-cons could nudge hesitant hiring managers to take a chance on a candidate who’s spent time behind bars, according to the groups behind Monday’s survey.
However, customer comfort falls by more than half, if it’s a matter of dealing with workers who have violent crime convictions. Poll participants were asked if they were comfortable dealing with businesses that hired people with violent crimes in their past: 31% said they were comfortable while 63% said they felt uncomfortable.
The same discomfort applied when people were asked how they’d feel working for a company that hired individuals with violent crimes: 33% said they were comfortable, while 74% said they would be comfortable with co-workers who had non-violent records.
“That’s where people tend to draw the line of demarcation,” Alonso said.
Employers also report positive perceptions of the quality of workers with a criminal history. When SHRM and the Koch Institute interviewed human-resource professionals and managers last year, clear majorities — 67% and 80% respectively — said workers with criminal records were at least the same quality as workers with clean records.
Those earlier findings said 41% of managers and 47% of human resource officials were ambivalent about hiring, concerned about issues like customer reaction and possible legal liabilities.
The latest results are another layer of support for criminal justice reforms attempting to scale back America’s mass incarceration and all the side effects of a criminal record.
Late last year, federal lawmakers and President Donald Trump gave a brief glimmer of bipartisanship by passing and enacting the First Step Act, which focuses in part on better reintegrating men and women after they’ve served their time. A range of liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning groups, including the Charles Koch Institute, banded together to push for passage.
The survey findings were released the same day the Department of Labor and the White House held events on re-entry efforts for former prisoners.
“Helping those individuals find a job is the best thing we can do,” Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Monday — even more so at a time when millions of jobs were left unfilled, he noted.
By the end of January, there were 7.6 million job openings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor. There have been more openings than job seekers for 11 months, Acosta said.
At the same event, Jon Ponder, founder and CEO of the Las Vegas nonprofit HOPE for Prisoners, said immediate training, counseling and assistance were crucial so inmates could walk away from prison ready for the workforce. It’s not that companies didn’t want to hire workers with convictions, said Ponder, whose group works on re-entry. “They are not willing to hire a project,” he said.
“We all make mistakes,” Ponder said. “We are not the mistake that we made.”
Efforts to re-think a conviction’s consequences have gained momentum in recent years.
That includes laws that have resulted in legalized recreational use of marijuana in 10 states. It also includes “ban the box” laws regulating when a job applicant’s criminal background comes into play, along with certain city laws that bar what landlords can consider in a tenant.
New York City is one of the places with rules against employment discrimination based on criminal record. There’s been over 550 complaints filed with the city’s Human Rights Commission since the city’s Fair Chance Act was enacted in October 2015, and the number has climbed over the years. In 2015, residents filed 102 complaints. In 2018, the number was 158.
Almost 2.3 million people are incarcerated nationwide in state and federal institutions, with the brunt, 1.3 million, serving in state prisons, according to the Prison Police Initiative. In the state prison population, 712,000 are serving sentences for violent crimes, the organization said.
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