Defying the conventional wisdom regarding hiring people with criminal backgrounds


And why ex-offenders excel as entrepreneurs

Biases and stereotypes. Man, that’s a hard one. We all have them and each of us is influenced by them. Biases and stereotypes allow our brains to process information and make decisions quickly based on limited information. Most of the time, they are harmless: I don’t like tomatoes -> I should probably not eat that sandwich. It’s raining -> I should probably drive more cautiously. (By the way, 77% of weather-related fatalities are due to wet pavement.)

But when our biases and stereotypes cause us to make irrational decisions—that is, not logical or reasonable—that’s when we need to stop and reassess how our attitudes impact our behaviors, possibly to the detriment of ourselves or others. Let’s take employing people with criminal backgrounds.

Data specifically on unemployment or employment rates for people with criminal backgrounds isn’t readily available. Suffice it to say, unemployment is high for ex-offenders, as are the barriers to employment. Even a highly qualified candidate can be passed over for a job offer because of an unrelated criminal history. And it’s not even stated that it’s because of the criminal history. It’s just that, somewhere along the way, whether knowing it or not, someone allowed his/her biases and stereotypes about people who have been in jail to cloud his/her hiring decision.

I firmly believe in criminal justice. But, once one has served one’s sentence, I believe the debt to society has been paid. I also firmly believe that, like the best anti-poverty program is employment, I believe the answer to recidivism (i.e., the likelihood to reoffend) is a job.