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How Long After Arrest Is It Safe To Hire Someone With A Criminal Record?

When is it Safe To Hire Someone With a Criminal Record?

Teresa Thomas
May 27th 2009

New Carnegie Mellon Study Provides Empirical Basis For Employers To Use in Assessment of Prior Criminal Records PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University researchers have created a model for providing empirical evidence on when an ex-convict has been “clean” long enough to be considered “redeemed” for employment purposes. The new study, which appears in the current issue of Criminology, estimates that after five years of staying clean an individual with a criminal record is of no greater risk of committing another crime than other individuals of the same age. The research comes at a time when President Barack Obama’s crime agenda includes breaking down employment barriers for people who have a prior criminal record, but who have stayed clean since their earlier offense.

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 “In the past, employers had no way of knowing when it might be safe to look past a criminal record,” said Alfred Blumstein, co-author of the study and the J. Erik Jonsson University Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research at Carnegie Mellon’s H. John Heinz III College. “Hiring an ex-offender was a totally arbitrary decision. We believe our model can change that and help provide employers with data in making such decisions. Or it can be used by state criminal-record repositories in deciding when a prior arrest is too ‘stale’ to warrant distributing.” Blumstein’s co-author is Kiminori Nakamura, a Ph.D. student at the Heinz College. 

The issue of employing ex-offenders has become more of a problem, as a vast majority of larger U.S. employers now perform criminal background checks, Blumstein said. He noted that advances in information technology allow criminal records to be kept longer and to be distributed easily, and employers are concerned about liability risk if the former offender commits a new crime. Blumstein said this makes it difficult for a large number of people who have committed crimes when they were much younger but have stayed clean since then. The study, funded by The National Institute of Justice, used criminal-history records of more than 88,000 first-time offenders in New York in 1980. Most committed new crimes within the first few years after their initial arrest, but only a small minority had a new arrest after staying clean for at least five years. After determining whether the offenders had remained clean during the ensuing 25 years, the data on the 1980 offenders was compared against two comparison groups. The study determined that after about five years those in the offender group were at or below the risk of arrest as people in the general population who were the same age.

A more demanding comparison is with people of the same age who had never been arrested. Those with a prior record had to stay clean longer, but their risk could be close enough even to that low-risk group. Future studies will address other states and sampling years to assess the consistency of results. This effort is intended to develop standards for employers and record repositories to help reduce the handicaps imposed on those who had committed a crime when they were younger. For a link to the Carnegie-Mellon University News Release: Click Here 

Advantages To Hiring Ex-Cons Many employers balk at the prospect of hiring someone with a criminal record. However, many employers who have a history of hiring ex-convicts say that, generally speaking, ex-convicts can sometimes make exceptionally dedicated and motivated employees who are grateful that their employer has taken a chance on them. Some former prisoners have had good vocational training while incarcerated.Also, the U.S. government provides many benefits to companies that actively seek to hire ex-convicts. Some examples: Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC): Gives an immediate contribution to an employer’s “bottom line” by providing eligible employers with a federal tax credit for hiring an ex-offender. 

Job Training Partnership Act: Can reimburse some training wages; offers additional services that vary by state. 
Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI): Awards grants to employment-centered organizations that provide mentoring, job training, and other transitional services for ex-offenders. In addition, some states offer a free service that provides individual fidelity bonds to employers for job applicants with a conviction record. State reentry resources can be found online. Do your state or local laws prevent the consideration of certain convictions? Some states expressly prohibit employers from hiring ex-offenders if the job and the crime are directly related, such as hiring a convicted sex offender for a child care position. Do industry regulations restrict employing ex-offenders who have committed certain crimes? The banking industry, for example, prohibits the employment of individuals who have been convicted of financial fraud. How relevant is the conviction to the job? Think of the crime as it relates to the core job duties.

Deciding not to hire a convicted bank robber for a job as a payroll clerk is probably more defensible than deciding not to hire a convicted bank robber for a job as a gardener, for example. How long ago did the conviction occur? In general, the more recent the conviction is, the firmer the legal ground you stand on in not extending a job offer. What rehabilitation has the applicant been through, if any? An applicant with an alcohol-or drug-related conviction who has successfully completed a substance abuse program may have a strong argument that he has put his troubles behind him, unlike one who has not undergone any rehab. What is your company policy and/or past practice? Always be consistent. 

What does your liability insurance policy say about hiring people with criminal backgrounds? How are you bonded? Check with your legal department.
 Please note that this study addresses a wide range of general criminal activity but does not address the recidivism of sex offenders. We suggest the nature of criminal activity should perhaps always be considered.

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