The new decade has awakened us collectively to what is essential — access to safety, community, and employment. As we confront the cracks in America’s social system, we also confront some harrowing truths.
Black people and people of color are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to accessing the fundamental resources to survive in the wake of a global pandemic, failing economy, and future beyond. Our prisons reflect our national inequity — filled with people who have been the target of generations of segregation, redlining, and prejudice.
Today, as many as 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record — ranging from minor offenses to extensive conviction histories. In a time of historically high unemployment, finding work becomes especially difficult for those with a criminal record. This is the cycle of recidivism: When someone has a conviction history, their job application is met with greater scrutiny and bias. They’re less likely to have employment. Lacking employment, they can be pushed to commit or recommit offenses out of necessity or stress.
The good news is this: Employment helps people exiting the jail and prison system become economically stable, and it dramatically reduces their likelihood to return back to the system. As a hiring manager, business leader, or HR leader, this is where you can make an impact and help break the cycle of recidivism— by implementing fair chance hiring.
What is fair chance hiring?
Fair chance hiring is built on the premise that everyone, regardless of their background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for. Embraced by modern employers, it ensures fair access to work for the 70 million Americans with a criminal record. It’s a powerful tool to continue the progressive work that began over 60 years ago, living on with a renewed purpose today. It is the work of undoing generations of targeted criminalization.
What to consider when starting fair chance hiring practices?
The road to implementing corporate policies and shifting attitudes within your organization can be intimidating, but we’ve broken down the process into manageable stages:
1. Create an intentional hiring plan
Start by having a conversation about fair chance hiring at an executive level. It’s important for your leadership to be bought in, otherwise it becomes difficult to make tangible change across the organization. Once executive leadership is behind the idea, it’s time to bring together a team of stakeholders from different parts of the organization, including folks from recruiting, HR and legal. Recruiting and HR will play a crucial role in shaping the hiring process for fair chance talent and building a system for them to onboard effectively, meanwhile legal will help you manage compliance and risk.
2. Connect with local source partners to find top fair chance talent
Engaging in fair chance hiring is not only an opportunity to diversify your workforce, it’s also a chance to make a meaningful partnership with job development experts in your community. Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that focus on workforce development for reentry and fair chance talent are likely right in your backyard. Partnering with local source partners can give you strategic access to top talent with conviction histories without having to do a manual search yourself.
3. Conduct a skills-based interview
Working to build a strong fair chance talent pipeline is a crucial step in a successful hiring process, but is your organization ready to receive this talent once they enter the interview phase? Many fair chance candidates who are qualified in terms of the skills they possess, may not have previous job experience in the role or may have an employment gap during their period of incarceration.
As you begin recruiting for your open roles, put yourself in the skills-based assessment mindset. Rather than focusing on past direct experience in the role you’re hiring for, focus on transferable skills and willingness to learn.
4. Fairly assess charges
As applications come in, there may be some charges on the background check that need manual review. To fairly address these, you’ll need to set up an individualized assessment practice. This requires you to better understand each candidate and use something called the nature/time/nature test, which considers three things:
- The nature of that individual's conviction history
- The length of time that's passed
- The nature of the job for which you’re hiring
Once you’ve hired your new talent, you can focus on getting them oriented, ramped up, and comfortable adjusting to a new environment. Fold your folks into existing onboarding and training programs with your new hire cohort, and have transparent conversations with fair chance talent about any additional support they may need.
How can I get started?
If you’re considering building your own fair chance hiring plan, we recommend starting with our playbook, “The Diversity Group You're Overlooking: How to be a Fair Chance Employer,” which includes a comprehensive plan—which your organization can start implementing today.