Fair Chance Hiring Is Key To Impactful Criminal Justice Reform

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Fair Chance for All

Jul 28th, 2021

Kentucky lawmakers have made major strides in criminal justice reform. Just last year, the House Judiciary Committee passed two bills that lowered the criminal penalties for possessing trace amounts of controlled substances and gave judges the option to consider graduated sanctions against offenders who violate terms of their probation, instead of just sending them straight back to prison.


The business community is also involved. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Workforce Center now identifies fair chance employers in an online database. These employers hire people who are in recovery or recently incarcerated, recognizing that steady employment, along with stable housing, is one of the most important factors in reducing recidivism and other negative outcomes.


Despite these significant steps forward, more progress is needed in Kentucky. Only six states have higher incarceration rates. And the recidivism rate is at 41% within two years of release. These problems are complicated by the conditions that await prisoners trying to reenter society: a large percentage of Kentucky’s prison population are convicted of low-level, nonviolent felony drug possession, yet employers are still turning them away — even though companies report it’s harder than ever to find potential employees.


Kentucky’s unemployment rate currently stands at 4.7% and is quickly approaching the state’s historic low of 4%. But getting there relies on a confluence of factors, including a robust workforce available to fill any labor gaps and keep businesses thriving. Finding the employees to staff open positions has posed as much of a challenge in Kentucky as it has across the rest of the country. The largely untapped talent pool of formerly incarcerated individuals could prove invaluable in filling these open roles.

Many business owners remain hesitant, however, about hiring individuals with criminal records. They worry that these individuals will be at higher risk for embezzlement and theft — or even violent workplace behavior.

But research shows that formerly incarcerated individuals behave as well, or even better, than their coworkers without a criminal record. A survey of managers found that 82% believe that the quality of hire for workers with criminal records is about the same or higher, while 67% of HR professionals felt the same. Researchers also found that those with a criminal record are more likely to stay in their jobs longer than those without one, which improves a company’s employee retention rates and cuts down on recruiting and training costs.

But what about other employees, who may not be familiar with that research or feel safe?

The answer isn’t just pre-hire background checks.

Continuous criminal monitoring is an additional protection that gives employers the ability to identify and manage potential problems with timely alerts, which are generated based on an analysis of incarceration data. These alerts serve a dual purpose: they protect both employers and employees from the risk of violence or fraud, while at the same time allowing employers to intervene and provide counseling or other assistance programs for employees at the first sign of trouble.

Fair chance hiring practices are being implemented successfully in Kentucky, such as the Ban the Box initiative, which removes the screening questions regarding past criminal activity from job applications. Many businesses have already signed up to advertise their willingness to hire formerly incarcerated individuals on state job boards, and for all those considering this leap, continuous criminal monitoring is one more protection that can be put in place to mitigate any concerns.

Kentucky has everything to gain by advancing fair chance hiring practices more broadly across the state. Not only will they improve the state’s incarceration and recidivism rates, but they will also inject new life into the workforce through the integration of previously excluded individuals. Kentucky has made considerable progress, but there is still more we can do.

As we look toward the future and all that Kentucky can be, let’s give businesses the confidence to offer everyone a second chance.

Brian Matthews has served as the president of Appriss Insights, headquarted in Louisville, since 2019. He is responsible for developing and executing growth strategies for the business with an overall focus on saving lives, preventing fraud and reducing insider risk.



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