"Fair Chance" Efforts Continue the Push to Widen Economic Opportunities

For incarcerated individuals, the day of release often feels like a rebirth, the opportunity to start fresh again. The joy of regaining freedom can be short-lived considering the many challenges that follow. For former prisoners, there is no "clean slate" that accompanies their new start, and many struggle to find both housing and employment due to their criminal record.  

For most businesses using background checks, checking an individual's criminal record is a key part of the hiring process. Though intended to protect employees and customers while shielding companies from liability, these policies can be highly exclusionary. With many industries facing a pressing need for qualified labor and the increasing awareness surrounding the potential social problems that stem from wholly excluding those with a criminal record from employment, support for changing hiring policies has picked up speed. 

Many states and locales have enacted "ban the box" laws that seek to delay background checks and criminal history inquiries until after an applicant receives a job offer. The goal: allow employers to see that the individual could be an asset to the business before a background check introduces a potential bias against them.  

From California to Massachusetts, governments have opted to require private companies to give a "fair chance" to those with records (with mixed success). The policies are a part of a growing movement to encourage reintegration and rehabilitation and reduce recidivism by preventing the total exclusion of convicted persons. 

Some states have gone another route, opting to expand opportunities for criminal record expungement. Expunged criminal records do not appear on criminal history reports such as backgroundchecks.com's US OneSEARCH. However, expungement is not an option for everyone, and many states do not offer easy pathways towards removing criminal records from view.  

In Maryland, a Baltimore startup is redefining the vetting process by creating a new type of background check—one that produces a numerical, credit score-like assessment of the risk that an individual represents to a business. According to Forbes, the company's founder, Teresa Hodge, noted that many companies would rather not spend time and effort assessing everyone with poor background check results—instead, they issue a denial and field the next applicant. With its new system, Hodge's team hopes to encourage businesses to look beyond the surface of an individual’s background check results. 

These efforts fall in line with similar work completed at the federal level with the 2010 passing of the Fair Sentencing Act. Primarily intended to reduce sentencing disparities, the act included requirements for the Department of Justice to classify offenders based on their risk of re-offending. The DoJ then diverts those offenders into programs aimed at reducing that risk through training and employment.  

As companies strain their resources to fill job openings, national fair chance movements continue to demonstrate that workers with imperfect backgrounds are ready and willing to work, but they need an opportunity. Using the right tools, including backgroundchecks.com's professional license verification, credit checks and MyClearStart, can help employers fully gauge the suitability of an individual beyond one facet of his or her record. 

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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