Paying The Price Twice

by Diane Dimond on October 10, 2011

Those With Criminal Records Are Worst Off

With the U.S. unemployment over nine percent these days nearly everyone knows someone who is out of work or under-employed. It’s a tragic and desperate time for millions of Americans.

But there is one sector of the population hit harder than any other – those Americans who carry the stigma of a past criminal conviction. An almost unbelievable 65 million people – one in every four U.S. adults – falls into this category. And, in this War-on-Terror era employers are conducting background checks on new hires like never before. No matter how exemplary a life a person has led since their conviction, their past record will pop up.

Look, no one could fault an employer for thinking twice about hiring someone who has been convicted of murder or child molestation. But, according to the author of a National Employment Law Project study that’s not what we’re talking about here. Michele Rodriguez says, “We’re not talking primarily about hardened criminals, but your friends, relatives and neighbors who may have shoplifted once or twice, who have DUI’s on their record or have drug charges that date back to the 1980’s.”

"Ted Brown" lied on Job Application - Was Discovered

Take, as an example, the case of Ted Brown (not his real name) a whiz-bang software engineer that was downsized out of a job last winter. He thought he had landed a prestigious job with a five figure bonus when suddenly the offer was rescinded. Turned out the employer’s background check had discovered that during a nasty divorce several years earlier Ted had pleaded guilty to a charge of child endangerment. He had left his son alone in the car on a cool fall day while he quickly sprinted in to Starbucks for coffee. Never thinking that the episode would affect his ability to do a job Ted checked “no” on the application box that asked about arrests and convictions. He compounded his police record with a lie.

Lowe's Sued For Hiring Practices

Then there’s the story of 40 year old Johnny Magee of Dublin, California. Twelve years ago the developmentally disabled Magee was asked by his uncle to pick up a package for him. Unbeknownst to Johnny it contained drugs and even though he had no police record he was convicted of a misdemeanor drug offense. In 2008, Johnny was laid off from his long time landscaping job at the Livermore National Laboratory. Even with his experience Lowe’s Garden Center refused to consider him for a garden assistant’s job citing his police record. In 2009, Johnny’s lawyer filed charges with the EEOC against Lowe’s citing the Commission’s pronouncement that “an absolute bar to employment based on the mere fact that an individual has a conviction record is unlawful under Title VII.”

As NELP’s Rodriguez says, “People are human, they make mistakes,” – especially in their early years – and ought not to be discriminated against for the rest of their lives.

Study Shows Business Bias on Workers

I agree it is not fair to the jobseeker and, frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to society to limit the employment pool at such a crucial economic time. For every one who pulls from the unemployment coffers the burden shifts to the rest of us – the working taxpayers.

But how are these 65 million Americans supposed to get a new job if they suddenly become unemployed? A quick glance at the Craigslist employment page reveals insurmountable company policies:

“No Exceptions! No Misdemeanors and/or Felonies of any type ever in background.”

”DO NOT APPLY WITH ANY MISDEMEANORS / FELONIES”

“You must not have any felony or misdemeanor convictions on your record. Period.”

Sued for Hiring Bias

Last year at least five major federal civil rights lawsuits were filed against some of the country’s largest employers such as Accenture, First Transit, Inc. and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company for their blanket policies against hiring anyone with an arrest record. Even the U.S. Census Bureau was sued for refusing to consider “roughly 700,000 people” with criminal records as suitable for temporary Census jobs.

Prisoners are Disproportionally Black & Hispanic

Some of those suits – and many more filed at the state or local level – mention the racially discriminatory nature of refusing to consider applicants with a police record since African Americans and Latinos are over-represented in the criminal justice system. These legal actions are sure to have begun to seep into the corporate mindset where bean counters realize how costly litigation can be. Policy shifts are certainly underway.

Tell the Truth - The Whole Truth

I’m all about law and order and people doing the time for the crimes they commit. But once time has been served – especially if it’s for a non-violent offense – we need to welcome these people back into the fold. They need the work and we need them to be working for the betterment of our communities.

And to those who have an arrest record and are looking for a job? Don’t be like Ted Brown the software guy and lie about it on your application. Realize that a background check is going to discover your past so be upfront about it. A black mark on your background check might not stop a company from hiring you. But lying most certainly will.

 

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond October 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

DD Web Site Reader “Dave” writes:

“Saw what you just posted on your website, and as you know I’m someone with a not-so-perfect background but I’m still (I think, at least – haha) a decent fellow. Something else that goes along with this I think is the overcriminalization of society, especially in regard to non-violent petty drug offenses – the type that I’m a victim of. Even though I wasn’t technically committed of a crime (possession is a disorderly persons offense in NJ) I still feel the need to put the fact that I have that on my application every damn time I apply for a job and will until I can get it expunged next year. I can tell you I’ve been turned down for at least 4 jobs because of it.

These problems won’t go away until we change our view of law and order as a society and what the law is truly for: protecting people or enforcing a way of life.”

Reply

rita dicarlo October 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Great article! I agree. Especially if not applying for jobs in healthcare field. There are cops in the Palm Springs area now, every city nearby, fighting to keep their jobs after they were arrested for a crime! Now, THEY should NOT be reconsidered if the people mentioned in your article cant.

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Francis October 11, 2011 at 3:41 am

“You’re not going to build a town around a prison. It’s a positive contribution to the local economy, but not the solution to economic development”… a wonderful quotation came to my desk. From article, “New prisons seldom a lock on prosperity” – By Robin Acton Monday, September 22, 2008. “Prisons have become a growth industry in rural America.” Correct! Already in 2002 a French-German TV reported of a new CCA prison in Georgia and the happy leading officials because all pig breeding farmers went off to Mexico and the community badly needed jobs. Same article: “The survey showed that nine other states experienced significant growth: Florida, which went from 39 to 84 prisons; California, from 30 to 83; New York, from 30 to 65; Michigan, from 25 to 60; Georgia, from 18 to 42; Illinois, from 12 to 40; Ohio, from 10 to 35, Colorado, from 7 to 32; and Missouri, from 7 to 26.” Retired Luzerne Township Supervisor Ron DeSalvois quoted in the same article as follows: “I think that most people who wanted a job at the prison got one,” DeSalvo added. “They make good money, they have good benefits and, in 10 years, they’re vested for a pension.” “Prisons are good for a community,” DeSalvo said. “You’ll have people moving in, buying houses, shopping at local businesses.” Probably the journalist forgot to add: And we must not suspect a Bank crash, in contrary: Prison Industry backbones the US economy since 25 years. We should think offering our service to other nations. At present only taxpayers money is transferred to private pockets. If America would import prisoners the nation will get a regular income. Such a package is a true offer compared to what Casino Bankers sold to their silly colleagues around the globe. America has the highest prisoner rate already, 10-12 times higher than comparable civilized nations. So the idea building a town around the prison is quite a good consideration. A true and good idea to serve the National Interest!
It’s time making real decisions: Catch and Release, By Margaret Talbot, The Atlantic Monthly | February 1, 2003
http://www.newamerica.net/publications/articles/2003/catch_and_release

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Diane Dimond October 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Huffington Post Reader Daydreaming Tori writes:

“This has become an epidemic in the current job market, but it’s not going to get better anytime soon. I try to be as afir as possible, but the bottom line is that people born into poverty are the most likely to be both arrested & incarcerat­ed. Having a criminal record has damaged many lives, & the wealthy will continue to have the upper-hand if laws aren’t passed at the Federal level to forgive those on probation, parole, or those who left those mistakes in the past. Crimes of heinous nature, especially sex crimes are too much of a risk, but this definitely needs to change. The current job market needs workers, & our country would benefit from putting these 65 million folks to work in reconstruc­tion & infrastruc­ture. Roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, & recreation­al developmen­t would be a great place to start. Very well said, Ms. Dimond. I’ve been agreeing with you for atleast a decade.”

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Diane Dimond October 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Huffington Post Reader dadoorsron writes:

“52 percent of released prisoners go back to prison.

Your examples are horrible at best. The one applicant lied on his applicatio­n. The company had every right to deny him the position after they found it in his background check. On another note, Why would you leave your kid in the car to get a drink? He deserves to get punished for something that stupid. Mr Magee, work experience doesn’t give him a shoe in to working at a garden center. You sign a waiver for Lowes to do a background check. The results are common. 100’s of other applicants are in the loop. Pass over someone with a spotted background for someone with a clean background with customer service experience­. I’ll take the customer service over the guy that mowed grass for a in house maintenanc­e division at a large site.”

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Diane Dimond October 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Dear Dadoorsron:

I welcome dissenting comments and am pleased to post yours here. But I must question your statistic that 52% of released prisoners go back to prison. May I ask your source of that? ~ DD

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CLS October 18, 2011 at 1:56 am

I found your article very, very interesting. I work in compliance, although I cannot say in what aspect, for many reasons. However, due to the nature of what I do, there are felons that will unfortunately automatically make somebody unbondable. But when it comes to misdemeanors, a little honesty goes a long, long way. Compliance people respect honesty.

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Diane Dimond October 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Huffington Post Reader Scott Bernstein writes:

“There is a thin line between evil & crime defined. You are not
the judge, jury & executioner. There is no perfect legal system
anywhere. There are thousands of innocent people sitting in
jail & prisons all around the world and stigmatized the rest of
their lives for what the victims and prosecutors assert/ assume
what they did. That is criminal. Who is going to give them
their life back? If the law hands down a sentence & completes
that sentence to the State’s satisfaction – It’s over! What do
you stand to gain by continually bantering the defendant? What
message are you sending? You are sending a message that even
though they served their sentence and was rehabilitated, they
have no place in this world anymore. Thery are outcasts and
maggots. If we in turn treat them like this, we leave them with
other recourse then to turn back to that world that they feel
wanted and more welcomed. Bitterness is not the path best
chosen, that is your own inner demons. It’s time to a hard look
in the mirror and contemplate what kind of person you want to
be. What kind of change you want to be in the world. The harsh
reality is this world needs humanity restored. Hate mongering,
racism, demonizing, bullying and collusion is a cancer. Love &
forgiveness is an undeniable cure. Let’s unite and fight the
real enemies out there. Think – don’t react. Get your own
demons in check first.”

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Diane Dimond October 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Huffington Post Reader kwyang writes:

“A DUI is a classic crime of irresponsi­bility and recklessne­ss with your life and the life of everyone else on the road. I’m thinking it’s a pretty good indicator to an employer about what the employee is like.”

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Diane Dimond October 23, 2011 at 9:56 am

ABQ Journal Reader Sojourner of Truth wrote:

“Studies show that after only a few years there is no statistical correlation between a criminal history and the likelihood of committing a new crime. The public is being sold snake oil when it comes to criminal background checks as they are, essentially, worthless predictors of future conduct.”

Reply

Edward C D Ingram October 31, 2011 at 11:52 pm

We need a culture shock / change, not just a quick look at this.

Keep campaigning!

Reply

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