If the employment cycle is a pendulum, it has swung from one apex to another in the last 14 months. Businesses that furloughed or laid off employees in spring 2020 are now desperate to find candidates willing to interview. If you’ve recently hung a “now hiring” sign in your window, I want to pose a question: Have you considered hiring people with a criminal record?

Traditional application processes pre-screen for past involvement with the criminal justice system. Admitting you’ve been convicted of a crime immediately disqualifies potential job candidates from moving forward in the placement process. But this practice is shifting, with “ban the box” sentiments and policies – which remove questions about criminal involvement from job application processes – moving across the country. To find long-term hiring success, contribute to the local economy and support community-building practices, you should adopt a “ban the box” policy at your place of business.

There is a pool of technically and professionally trained employees you’re overlooking. In Shelby County Division of Corrections, a program called Hope 2 Hire has been providing professional skills training through HopeWorks and technical job certifications through TCAT and the University of Memphis to inmates for more than two years. Men and women are leaving our prisons with technical certificates needed to succeed in in-demand fields, including hospitality and restaurant management, construction, masonry, logistics and more. If you’re not considering ex-offenders in your hiring practices, you’re missing out on a labor pool that could meet your needs.

When you hire an ex-offender, you’re contributing to our local economy. A report from the Brennan Center detailing the impact of imprisonment on Americans found that average annual household earnings decreased by 52% among people who spent time in prison, 22% among people who were convicted of a felony but spent no subsequent time in prison, and 16% among people who were convicted of a misdemeanor. These wage losses not only impact the justice-involved person, but their families and households. By expanding your job opportunities to include ex-offenders, and paying them a living wage, you are investing in local people and in our economy.

Hiring people with a criminal record supports personal and community crime prevention and rehabilitation efforts. A 2018 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics that followed ex-offenders over a prolonged period of time reports an estimated 68% of released prisoners were rearrested within three years, 79% within six years, and 83% within nine years. While the factors that contribute to recidivism are numerous, two critical factors can be alleviated through equitable hiring practices: increased wages and a productive time-spend. The connection is simple. When a person has a dignified job, one that pays them enough to provide for their family and offers fulfilling work opportunities, people are less likely to commit crimes. By paying a person a living wage, you’re reducing financial need that often drives people to offend in the first place. When a person has a full-time job, it builds personal confidence and occupies their time, leaving less time and reason to commit a crime.

You can fill your job needs with qualified candidates, support our local economy and provide a second chance to people in our community by expanding your hiring horizons. By partnering with organizations like Hope 2 Hire, or by removing pre-screening questions about a person’s criminal record from your job applications, you can change the way your business engages with the community.

HopeWorks helps people in Memphis and the Mid-South find meaningful employment through three main programs: Adult Education, Employment Services, and Holistic Reentry.