An article recently published in the Chicago Tribune illuminates just how much the employment landscape has changed in recent years for people with criminal histories. The article, “Second chances: Employers more open to hiring people with criminal backgrounds,” focused in part on the story of Andre Joachim Jr., a board-certified counselor who 15 years ago was starting his fourth stint in prison.
Joachim’s story is an example of how ex-criminal offenders can reform after multiple convictions and jail time. Per the article, a big part of that reform was Joachim’s force of will. After his fourth trip to prison, Joachim made an active play to change his fate. He slowly chipped away at milestones in his education, earning associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in counseling.
The pinnacle of Joachim’s story—getting certified with the National Board for Certified Counselors and licensed as a counselor in the State of Illinois—may not have been possible when he first began his journey toward redemption: until 2016, Joachim’s “forcible felony convictions” made it illegal for him to obtain a license in Illinois as a healthcare worker of any kind. A new law in 2016 changed policies in his favor.
The tale shows how new laws and shifting viewpoints on criminal history are changing the game for ex-offenders seeking gainful employment. For years, advocates for criminal justice reform have cited recidivism as a reason to support people with criminal history in their attempts to re-integrate into society. The argument was if ex-offenders couldn’t find good jobs to make a living and support their families, they would resort to crime as a way of making ends meet.
Recent legislative changes are helping to put jobs within reach for ex-offenders. The biggest example is the ban the box movement. In many parts of the country, employers can no longer ask about criminal history on job applications. Within 10 or 15 years, “the box” likely won’t exist at all.
Some ban the box laws delay when in the hiring process employers can conduct background checks. These changes are meant to shift a hiring manager’s thinking away from a person’s criminal record and toward their skills and experience. Businesses are still allowed to vet their candidates thoroughly, which means employers end up knowing about past convictions. However, advocates of ban the box legislation say it helps candidates prove themselves to employers before their past misdeeds enter the equation—increasing the odds that an employer will take a chance on someone with a criminal record.
The Tribune article explores the way the current job market is changing things for employers. With the economy booming and more jobs available than there are people to fill them, employers don’t have the luxury of being as selective as they once were. With hundreds of thousands of people getting out of prison and rejoining society every year, employers looking to fill positions may have to consider hiring people with records even if they wouldn’t have done so five years ago.
Businesses should always be aware of their obligations to provide a safe workplace and avoid issues with negligent hiring. At backgroundchecks.com, we can help your company design a background check process that covers all the bases and fulfills your due diligence obligations without blocking ex-offenders who are searching for opportunities.