One in three US adults have been arrested by the age of 23, and the FBI considers 29.5 percent of US adults to have a criminal record. Either statistic points to a significant number of potential applicants that have a criminal record. So does a criminal background mean you shouldn’t hire someone? Are there benefits to doing so?

Benefits of hiring applicants with criminal records

benefits for the company

Benefits for the Company

All 50 states offer insurance bonds to companies that hire from risky populations to lessen the fear of liability associated with hiring those with criminal records. In addition, most companies can qualify for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring someone with a criminal background.

Studies have shown that those with a record perform just as well, if not better than those without a record. Just because they have a criminal past, does not mean that they lack a particular set of skills that would be useful to your organization. In addition, those with a criminal past are less likely to quit, saving your company money on turnover.

benefits for applicant

Benefits for the Applicant

Upon prison release, one of the most important steps to rehabilitation is getting a job and developing a normal life. Employment leads to lower risk of committing another crime, rejected applicants are more likely to end up in prison again.

A job allows for a sense of normalcy. It can help restore their self-esteem and confidence, start them on a path to rebuilding their lives, and give them a sense of dignity and pride.

benefits for society

Benefits for Society

Again, individuals who have jobs are less likely to commit crimes. This means a safer community when those who have re-entered society are employed. A proper re-entry into society prevents continued crime, which means reduced cost and less time that tax payers contribute to the justice system. It can also benefit families, so children are less likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps in a life of crime but rather see how they rehabilitated and went to work.

criminal background checks

Why Check?

Some employers shy away from hiring anyone with a criminal record out of fear. If an applicant was imprisoned for violence they fear that it might show in the office, and it could. In addition, if the individual has been convicted of a felony they are banned from possessing or using a firearm, which is important to note in some lines of work. Some may not be able to work with children, elderly, or other vulnerable individuals.

The length of imprisonment, may impact the individuals skillset. Although one third of incarcerated citizens have a high school diploma, they may require more training and assistance than the average employee.

It’s important to be aware if anyone in your company has a violent history, otherwise the company could be sued for negligent hiring. 75 percent of human resource officials say that a nonviolent conviction would weigh heavily on their decision while 100 percent say a violent conviction would affect their decision. A study found that there was no difference in the customer service industry for those fired for misconduct, but those in sales positions were 28 percent more likely to get fired for misconduct than those who do not have a record.


legal implications of hiring a person with a criminal record

When it comes to hiring someone with a criminal record, you might also want to take note of the legalities. Starting from the beginning of the process it is federal law that in order to access an applicant’s criminal record you must provide notice under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Many state laws prevent the use of arrest records against an applicant in the hiring decision, unless relevant to the job or a field in which they cannot work. Some states, however, allow employers to refuse to hire anyone with criminal records, not just those convicted but those who were arrested but not convicted as well. It is a good practice to not ask about any records that have been expunged, sealed, or restricted. Candidates will respond that they have not been arrested and in most states you cannot ask regardless. State laws include:

Use the menu below to explore state laws regarding criminal background checks.

Federal laws to not prohibit asking about criminal history but EEO laws prohibit against using a criminal record as the sole reason for not hiring someone can be considered discrimination. It could potentially violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, if you want to use someone’s criminal record as a reason for not hiring them, it must point to a reason within the job description for why they could not do it. Broad questions have gotten companies like BMW and Dollar General in trouble with the EEOC.

What now?

If you are interested in hiring someone with a criminal background many states and municipalities have programs in place for those who were in prison to ease back into the general applications for candidates with criminal records population. Through those organizations you may be able to interview and help their transition.

Generally, the best candidates will directly answer any questions you may have. They will not try to make excuses for their past. When it comes to rehabilitation most are ready to live a normal life. Look at the time between when they were convicted and the present-how long has it been? Have they grown up? People tend to live and learn.

You may ask yourself if current employees deserve to know, well that’s really up to you. While, the person may have previously been violent a parole board has decided that they’re ready to be released back into the world, so consider letting them enter and be judged on their work, not on their past. Ultimately, however, it is up to you and whatever your company is comfortable with.