More than 65 million American adults have criminal records, largely due to the boom of mass incarceration over the past 30 years. That means it is highly likely that one in four adults in Waco-McLennan County have an adverse criminal history that relegates them to second-class status the rest of their lives. They’re part of the one social group that we are free to hate, it is legal to discriminate against, and toward which we openly perpetuate “the feeling of being lesser than… a gut wrenching, self-worth-stealing experience,” as described to me by a young woman from our community.
All too often, they can’t get housing or drive a car, can’t find a job, are mounted with massive debt and lose much of their social support system. Often they cannot vote or serve on a jury. Locked out of society, their dignity battered and hanging by a thread, it is no wonder that many are forced back behind bars or into the shackles, whether literal or figurative, from which they came. Try as hard as they might to make a new life, the discrimination against them is legal and a lifetime of shame, derision and exclusion awaits. This is the world of the one-in-four Wacoans with a criminal record.
Those of us with the power to change things must act. Compassionately and reasonably, we must use our resources to provide fair chances for new beginnings for our neighbors and fellow citizens.
A Fair Chance Hiring Policy is one way we can act.
We must eliminate unfair and unreasonable barriers to employment for qualified workers with criminal records. One way to accomplish this task is through a Fair Chance Hiring Policy. Across the United States, more than 70 cities and counties, 13 states (from every region of the country) and numerous private businesses have embraced the opportunity to provide fair chances during the hiring process by removing the question on initial job applications asking about an applicant’s criminal record history.
A Fair Chance Hiring Policy would still allow for employers to perform background checks and discuss criminal record history with applicants. It would just push this discussion back to later in the hiring process, to a point where an applicant has been deemed initially qualified for the job. At this time, the employer can provide an individualized assessment of the applicant (as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), the applicant’s qualifications for a particular job and if the individual’s specific criminal history indicates the applicant cannot perform the job safely and satisfactorily.
Providing stable employment increases public safety, reduces recidivism, decreases costs to our economy, and saves taxpayer dollars. A Fair Chance Hiring Policy enlarges the applicant pool and provides employers the opportunity to find more qualified employees. In the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, lawmakers passed a law that limits the liability of employers who employ persons with criminal records. Employers who hire people with criminal records also receive other benefits such as tax credits and insurance bonds. The movement is a win-win-win-win-win situation.
We all win.
Waco-McLennan County must not just join this movement. It must lead it. We should adopt a city and countywide Fair Chance Hiring Policy that would not only provide people with criminal records a fair chance for a new life but also yield many significant social and economic benefits for our community overall.
Prosper Waco, indeed, with a Fair Chance Hiring Policy.
If you are an employer or someone with hiring responsibilities and you are interested in learning more, please email us. If you are a concerned citizen ready to advocate for those in need around these issues, please email us. You can also read more about these issues and proposals on this blog, especially on the Fair Chance tab and on days 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, and 21. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together with the McLennan County Reintegration Roundtable and its efforts to put former felons back into the mainstream of American life as well as Prosper Waco’s emphasis on financial security, education, and health for our community, the time is ripe. Waco-McLennan County, let’s lead the way for fair chances for all.