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May 24, 2022

Reentry, Recidivism and Fair Chance Hiring: What to Know

Checkr Editorial

Learn the challenges previously incarcerated individuals face when reentering society and the proven way to reduce recidivism rates.


Today’s coverage of the labor market largely focuses on the staffing shortage and the “Great Resignation”. Yet there is a segment of the workforce too-often ignored that offers a substantial opportunity to fill open roles and create a positive impact on the economy: the formerly incarcerated.

There are currently 2 million people in U.S. prisons, giving our nation the unfortunate title of the world’s leader in incarceration. Each year, more than 640,000 people leave prison and seek ways to become contributing members of society. Despite serving their sentences, these individuals are often overlooked for job opportunities because of their criminal history.

That’s why we’ve made it our mission at Checkr to build a fairer future by creating opportunities for all people—no matter their past. We understand that those reentering society face an uphill battle and that everyone deserves economic opportunity. To create more fair opportunities, we aim to educate the business community on the benefits of fair chance hiring to build a thriving society and a healthy economy.

In this blog, we’ll explore this topic further by defining important terms associated with incarceration, discussing the challenges facing those seeking jobs, and sharing why fair chance hiring is vital to lowering incarceration rates and creating economic growth.

Terms to know: reentry and recidivism

There are two words often used when discussing formerly incarcerated people: reentry and recidivism. Reentry refers to the transition from life in prison to life back in the community. Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after they’ve received some type of intervention or sanctions.

Recidivism and employment

While close to 700,000 people leave prisons each year, data suggest returning citizens have a high likelihood of reincarceration. Within three years of their release, 2 out of 3 people are rearrested and more than 50 percent are incarcerated again. This is a heartbreaking cycle, but it’s one that can be broken by giving system-impacted folks the opportunity to successfully rejoin and contribute to their community.  

There are many challenges formerly incarcerated people face when seeking employment, including bias and discrimination, particularly for Black and Brown communities. For example, research shows that 17 percent of white Americans and only 5 percent of Black Americans with criminal records get called back after a job interview. 

Furthermore, The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (the NICCC), catalogs over 15,000 provisions of law in both statute and regulatory codes that limit occupational licensing opportunities for individuals with criminal records. There are also policy barriers, blanket bans, and fees associated with incarceration that act as obstacles for the justice-impacted population to gain employment. 

However, it’s proven that being employed reduces recidivism, and individuals are less likely to return when they have stable, full-time jobs. In fact, recidivism rates were nearly cut in half for people with conviction histories who have full-time employment compared with those who are unemployed.

The impact on employers and the economy

Not only is hiring fair chance talent beneficial to the individual, it’s also been proven to widen a business’s talent pool and boost its bottom line.

According to a study by SHRM, only 5 percent of managers and 3 percent of HR professionals actively recruit candidates with criminal records for open roles. Given today’s staffing shortage, opening up opportunities to previously incarcerated people brings in a group of workers ready, willing, and committed to finding stable employment. And once they’re hired, data proves fair opportunity talent are productive and loyal employees. 

On the flip side, leaving system-impacted individuals out of the hiring process has had a negative impact on the economy. According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the U.S. experiences a loss of about $78 to $87 billion in annual GDP by not hiring our returning neighbors. 

Fair chance hiring works

People with criminal histories deserve the chance to be a part of the workforce, and have proven to excel when doing so. Still, they have to jump through an exorbitant amount of hurdles to get there. That’s where fair chance hiring comes in. 

Fair chance hiring is built on the premise that everyone, regardless of their background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role in which they are qualified. Companies that practice fair chance hiring open themselves up to a wider, more diverse talent pool, higher retention rates, and better business outcomes. In fact, 82 percent of managers feel that the “quality of fair chance talent” is about the same or higher than that of workers without records.

Xavier McElrath-Bey, co-executive director at the Center for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, had this message to organizations on hiring fair chance talent in a recent interview with Checkr, “I assure you—they will be transformative in your space.” 

Companies open to hiring people from this too-often overlooked population help to create a more open, welcoming and just workforce.

Want to walk in the shoes of someone reentering society? Take the Checkr reentry simulation for a first-hand experience. 

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Interactive Experience

The Virtual Reentry Simulation

Walk in the shoes of someone leaving prison and reentering society. This thought-provoking experience will both enlighten and challenge your perceptions around system-impacted individuals and their pursuit of employment.

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