Second-Chance Hiring

Would your organization hire formerly incarcerated individuals?

By Tara Buchan and Dani Carbary December 20, 2023

Tara Buchan and Dani Carbary

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

Even though many studies show that formerly incarcerated talent has equal-to-better job performance stats when compared to peers, some organizations still have systemic bias against employees and applicants with a criminal history. If employers are truly committed to infusing DEIB into their practices, instituting intentional fair-chance hiring practices must be considered.

Here are some frequently asked questions from employers on the subject.

How do fair-chance hiring practices relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Fair-chance hiring is not only essential to DEIB practices, but including formerly incarcerated talent in equitable opportunities for employment can assist in making a more inclusive community and vibrant economy for us all. As many as one in three Americans has a criminal record. Furthermore, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and folks with disabilities have statistically been disproportionately incarcerated. “If you acknowledge the statistics, you know that if you’re truly committed to employing a diverse employee population, some of your employees may come with a conviction history,” says Susan Mason, a formerly incarcerated workforce development expert and founder of Susan Mason Consulting. “If you don’t have proper knowledge of this subject and the right tools embedded into your practices, you’ll likely be screening out diverse talent.”

How can I remove barriers currently blocking our talent acquisition team’s ability to recruit and hire formerly incarcerated talent?

Before you’re ready to recruit, your organization should have a solid vision, goals, and plan for successful fair-chance hiring practices. This should include an inventory of your current practices to see if they are hindering your desire to equitably employ formerly incarcerated talent. “Data show that employees’ success or failure in their job is related to the same barriers we all face: childcare, pay equity, training, and onboarding, not their past conviction history,” Mason says. “Ensuring your recruiters are equipped with the tools to achieve your goals can make all the difference while maintaining safety and productivity.”

Is talent being automatically screened out simply because an applicant has marked “yes” when asked about conviction history? Finally, clearly communicate your organization’s values regarding fair-chance hiring practices. If your intention is to evaluate each candidate equally, regardless of conviction history, consider adding that language to your job postings.

“Over 80 million Americans have a conviction history, making it a vast talent pool to consider. We do not perform background checks to ensure fair-chance employment and eliminate bias,” says Ami Nieto, human resources director at Green Canopy NODE. “We include this in our job postings and encourage those with conviction histories to apply.”

Can you share a tactical piece of advice for long-term retention of this employee population?

Set up both your new hires and current employees for success and true connection with thoughtful and meaningful training. Storytelling and interaction can go a long way to eliminate bias.

“Hearing personal stories from guest panelists, as well as engaging in small group conversations, allowed our team to lean in with open hearts to learn, and unlearn,” Nieto says. “Taking this step was key to increasing awareness and uncovering bias at an individual level, and ultimately, cultivating a more inclusive, supportive, and intentional environment where all current and new team members can thrive.”

Mason suggests going a step further to ensure your new talent feels a sense of belonging. “Consider including formerly incarcerated talent in your antiharassment policy language. Make it very clear that you are a fair-chance employer, and the past history of a colleague is not open to persecution, hostility, or ill-treatment.

“Reiterate that all talent is vetted and that everybody deserves a harassment-free, psychologically safe workplace. Setting that boundary will really go a long way to helping formerly incarcerated talent feel safe and connected to the workplace.”

Tara Buchan and Dani Carbary founded TADA Partners and lead Collabor8 Employer Collective, a cohort of employer organizations of varying industries and sizes focused on infusing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into all eight stages of an employee’s life cycle by sharing both success stories and valuable learning lessons.

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