When ex-offenders can’t find legal ways to support themselves and their families, the lure of crime can overwhelm them. Every time one of them returns to prison, it usually means another crime victim — and another sentence that costs taxpayers $30,000 a year or more.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took an important step last year to reduce recidivism by issuing guidelines that prohibit employers from denying people jobs based solely on their criminal records. These revisions should ease some of the daunting barriers ex-offenders face when they seek employment in Ohio, Michigan, and elsewhere — if employers follow them.
State elected officials ought to get behind the guidelines. The EEOC guidance supports prisoner re-entry initiatives and goals in Ohio, which has made significant investments to ensure that people who are released from prison get the help they need to stay out.
The EEOC considers blanket exclusions on hiring people with an arrest or criminal history a violation of federal law. The guidelines do not ban background checks. But they urge employers to consider how long ago a crime was committed, the nature of the offense, and whether it is relevant to the job.
The commission also recommends giving ex-offenders a chance to explain their convictions and what they’ve done to move their lives forward. Most employers already offer that option, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey.
Companies have had to pay millions of dollars in fines and settlements for criminal background-check policies that violated EEOC guidelines. Last year, Pepsi Beverages agreed to pay more than $3 million after the commission found its background-check policy racially discriminatory.
Too many employers continue to use criminal background checks to deny employment to qualified applicants, especially African-American men, as numerous labor market studies have shown. In the past, some ex-offenders who faced the inevitable question on job applications about past criminal records were practically forced to lie or face almost-certain rejection.
Ohio and Michigan employers should incorporate the new EEOC guidelines into their hiring policies and practices. Hundreds of thousands of people leave U.S. prisons each year, and millions more have felonies on their record.
As the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have noted in commenting on the EEOC guidelines: “People with criminal records must have access to jobs to ensure their success.” Ultimately, their success helps everyone.