Second chances: Why Seattle companies should hire people with criminal records

By Amanda DuBois June 20, 2023


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

2023The law firm I founded, DuBois Levias Law Group, is a “second chance” employer for people who were formerly incarcerated. We hire those who have served time in prison, carry a felony, or have close family members in prison. 

Given that one in four Americans has a criminal record that can impact their ability to get a job or housing, hiring people who were previously incarcerated opens up a talent pool of nearly 100 million candidates nationwide. Specific to Washington state, 96% of incarcerated individuals will be released back into the community, approximately 8,000 individuals.

This trend has held for five years, equating to about 40,000 people, according to the Washington State Department of Corrections. That is a deep pool of viable workers to help combat our labor shortage, which the American workforce is projected to have in the next decade as a result of our lower fertility rates on one end and increasing rates of retirement on the other. We see that trend play out especially in trade occupations, like electrical work. Anecdotally, one of my best friend’s sons, who served five years in prison, joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as an apprentice. As a result, he will become a well-paid journeyman electrician this summer. 

Research tells us that formerly incarcerated employees are ambitious, loyal, and dedicated. A study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law found that people who served time in prison were no more likely to be fired later than those of us who have never been in prison, and they were less likely to quit. That same study found that employees with criminal records are loyal and dedicated workers — their turnover rate is about 13% lower than those with no criminal record.   

This dedication and commitment to success is evident at my law firm. Someone I hired served six years in prison for a crime related to embezzlement and was recently named Student of the Year at Central Washington University Pierce County. Another DuBois Levias employee served 19 months in prison and 25 months in community custody. Now she is a student at my alma mater, Seattle University School of Law, and learned in January that she received straight As her first semester!  

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, two years after release, employed formerly incarcerated individuals were twice as likely to have avoided arrest as their unemployed counterparts. I’d argue that the legal and justice systems should be some of the most eager to hire the formerly incarcerated.

Because of their experience in the criminal legal system, formerly incarcerated people bring a wealth of understanding, knowledge, and empathy to colleagues and clients. In my family law practice, these employees are compassionate and forgiving with our highly emotional clients. They know what it takes to survive stressful situations and thrive. 

To help mobilize opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals, I founded the Civil Survival Project, a nonprofit that teaches people impacted by the criminal justice system to advocate for themselves in local and state government. The Civil Survival Project is led and staffed in large part by people who have served time in prison and is responsible for passing significant legislation in Washington state focusing on reentry and equity issues. Today, the organization is providing much-needed legal services to reentering citizens.

The human story is complex. Next time you’re hiring, please reach out to formerly incarcerated networks, like the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network. Consider the life experience they bring and their motivations, rather than their record.

“My perspective on formerly incarcerated people has changed,” my law firm partner, Lucia Ramirez Levias, recently told me. “I had biases that I didn’t even realize, but am now learning from our employees and find them to be some of the hardest working and honest people I know. They are deeply committed to their communities and loyal to their friends and coworkers.” 

Most people who are applying for a job coming out of prison are serious about making a change to their lifestyle. I find it interesting that we are called “second chance” employers, given the fact that some of these people really never had a first chance to begin with. Hiring will positively impact the individuals, their family, your business, and ultimately our Seattle community.

Amanda DuBois is the founder and managing partner of DuBois Levias Law Group PLLC, a family law firm based in Seattle, Wash. She is the founder of the Civil Survival Project, a nonprofit that provides legal services and teaches advocacy skills to formerly incarcerated individuals. She is the vice president of the board at PDA in Seattle and is the author of the Camille Delaney series, legal thrillers that highlight the flaws in the American legal system.

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