Consider Hiring Ex-Criminal Offenders, But Be Cautious

It can be hard finding the right people for your company. Often the fresh, untarnished applicants just out of college are too inexperienced both professionally and in life experience. You worry they may not have the big-picture experience to draw from when dealing with interpersonal challenges and business-related stress. On the face of it, hiring a person who has been convicted of a crime and spent time in jail may sound frightening. However, if the person has “done their time,” as the saying goes, and gives evidence of being reformed, and is of no harm, it might not be a bad idea. More than doing a good deed and giving a second chance to someone who may have just made a dumb mistake, you could be doing your company a huge favor. These ex-offenders may have great professional experience or technical expertise, and having survived the trauma of jail, have reserves of newfound personal strength many others lack.

What’s more, as we’ve all heard since the financial crash of 2008, there isn’t much room to be judgmental given the crimes many corporate executives have committed. Just because many of those executives got off without jail time doesn’t make them any better (and maybe even much worse) than those convicted and jailed for lesser wrongdoing.

I came across an article online on by Michael Finch II about companies in Alabama that participate in a job fair for ex-offenders. The organizations that participate don’t seem concerned about many of the things other companies might shrink from when considering ex-offenders. “You mostly get people who have been through the school of hard knocks so they are grateful to have a job and they are willing to learn. They’re eager to work—that’s the main thing,” Finch quotes Debbie Johnson, a Human Resources manager at Horizon Shipbuilding, as saying.

Meeting business challenges requires more than the right technical skills and knowledge—a lot of it requires the ability to work well with others and handle adversity such as an unreasonable client. On the one hand, you may wonder whether someone who ended up in jail has the emotional makeup for a job with those kinds of stresses. However, I think of it from the opposite perspective. The way these individuals interact with others has been put under the microscope for years, and many have had to do the kind of self-examination that most of us are never forced to confront. Plus, it is important to note that many ex-offenders weren’t jailed for violent behavior toward others. Their offense often says nothing about their ability to interact with co-workers and customers or clients.

That said, caution is required. Most may not be violent, but, unless wrongly convicted, they were put in jail for something. Organizations interested in hiring ex-offenders should work closely with parole officers and find out exactly what the ex-offender was convicted for. From there, you should be able to find a job role unrelated to any potential weaknesses.

To tell you the truth, non-violent ex-offenders who have clearly reformed would be a nice change of pace from some of the people I’ve worked with—they only seemed like they belonged in jail, and I would have liked to send them there, if only I could have. Seriously, though, you might be surprised at how ordinary the majority of ex-offenders seem—like any other new employee, but with some very important life and growth experiences behind them.

What is your company’s policy on hiring ex-criminal offenders? Do you consider these individuals as new employees? If not, why? If so, how do you integrate them into your workforce?