The US has a phenomenal number of inmates serving in her state correctional facilities. Imprisonment is invariable related to a loss in employment as the inmate serves his time. On re-entry into the society, these ex-felons require employment so as to make a living and be productive members of the society.
However, finding employment is not an easy task due to the negative perception of ex-felons that the society and by extension potential employers have. There were an estimated 592,000 inmates released from State and Federal facilities in 2001 (Office of Justice Programs). It is imperative that this huge number of ex-felons obtain employment so as to enable them to sustain themselves and avoid criminal activities.
However, most employers are reluctant to hire ex-convicts due to various considerations. This paper will argue that employing ex-felons is hugely beneficial and as such, employers should not hesitate to hire ex-felons in areas where they are qualified. To reinforce this assertion, this paper shall discuss the benefits of hiring ex-felons and weigh them against the demerits so as to demonstrate that hiring of ex-felons is valuable to not only the employer and ex-felon but also the community at large.
An employer who accepts to hire an ex-felon will have the advantage of tapping into a huge resource pool that is made up of ex-inmates. Owing to the heightened usage of imprisonment as the choice response to criminal behavior by our nation, there is a record number of individuals serving time in penitentiaries. Wodabl (2006, p.32) notes that “the more people we put in prison, the more will eventually come out”.
As such, it can be expected that a significant number of ex-inmates are returning and will continue returning to the community each year. This is a fact that is corroborated by Pattillo and Weiman (2006) who state that at the current rate of incarceration, nearly 10% of all men residing in the US will serve some time in state or federal prisons. This being the case, an employer who refuses to consider ex-felons for employment will be missing out on a significant number of potential employees.
The New York City Bar (2008) reveals that there are laws that protect an ex-felon from being discriminated against in employment as a result of their ex-felon status. These laws are put in place to avoid discrimination against ex-felons without any legitimate or valid reasons. These rights are legally enforceable and as such, an employer may be sued for discrimination. An employer can therefore avoid legal retribution by employing a qualified ex-felon since the low prohibits denying of employment on the basis of an arrest record.
Undoubtedly, there has been great reluctance by most employers to employ ex-felons. In recognition of this, the Federal governments in conjunction with State governments have created incentives for employers hiring ex-felons (New York City Bar, 2008). These incentives include protection against theft, embezzlement or forgery that may be perpetrated by the ex-felon.
An employer hiring ex-felons will therefore have an advantage in that he is insured in the case that his employee should decide to defraud him in any way. In addition to this, the government also offers tax benefits for companies that employ new persons who have been convicted of felonies.
Owing to the fact that most ex-felons find it had to get a job, when they are employed, they show more loyalty and tend to work harder than the ordinary person. This is because they know that getting a job is hard and as such, their current employer might be the only one willing to employ them given their record. An employer therefore stands to gain the unreserved dedication on the ex-felon even as he prove to be an asset to the employer.
Arguably the most important role played by criminal justice system is deterrence. This is because the most desirable function of punishments should be to deter would be wrong doers thus leading to a harmonic society. In an ideal environment, punishments should never have to be executed but their mere presence should cause all to abide to the rules and regulations in place therefore peacefully coexist.
By not hiring felons willingly, society will be assisting in creating even greater deterrence (Thompson, 2004). This is because a would be offender will know that if he/she is convicted, the punishment that they will suffer will not be limited to the prison but will also involve hurting their future employment opportunities.
When an employer hires, he may be held accountable for the employee’s actions. Companies may be held criminally liable for the behavior of their employees despite the employees having acted on their own volition. Saxonhouse (2004) reveals that for this reasons employers understandably would prefer to hire employees of proven trustworthiness.
Considering the fact that most ex-felons have a higher likelihood of recommitting a crime, an employer who hires an ex-felon exposes himself to unnecessary risk. Pattillo and Weiman further reveal that in many states, employers can be held liable for criminal actions of their employees for negligent hiring since they have a duty to protect the interests of their organization and the public by not exposing them to potentially dangerous individuals.
Ex-felons generally tend to suffer from mental instability which can be attributed to the stress that is experienced while they serve their sentence as well as the stigma that is attached to being an ex-convict.
Thompson (2004) documents that mental illnesses are four times as high in inmates than in the general population. This being the case, an employer runs the risk of employing a person of unsound mental health when he employs an ex-felon. This is not an economically sound decision since this person may end up being unproductive or even worse, become a liability to the company by accruing medical bills.
There are a significant number of ex-inmates who are returning to the community each year. However, the community at times fails to be supportive to the ex-felons or give them a chance to become productive community members. Petersilia (2001, p.360) laments that “virtually no systematic, comprehensive attention has been paid by policy makers to deal with people after they are released”.
This statement holds true for most states where there are no programs to enable the ex-convict to effectively reintegrate into society and gain meaningful employment. This combined with some laws which hold an employer accountable for crimes committee by the employees discourages potential employers from hiring ex-felons. However, this paper has shown that there are policies which have been put up to address the issue. These policies give incentives to employers for hiring ex-felons thus enabling them to gain stability.
While it is true that ex-felons suffer from stress as a result of imprisonment, when they are out of prison, it is unemployment which leads to an escalation of this mental health issues. Work is important for the mental well being of all persons and Liker (1982) asserts that there is scientific evidence associating unemployment and various forms of social and psychological disturbances.
Failing to employ ex-felons for because of their mental troubles therefore results in them being even more disturbed. Getting employed on the other hand has the effect of giving the ex-convict a mental release that in effect reduces the affective distress tat is inherent in most ex-felons (Liker, 1982).
The reality is that apart from those professions in which a felon is prohibited from enrolling in such as law enforcement, the decision whether or not to hire a felon is held by the prospective employer. Discriminating against ex-felons just because they once committed a crime is tantamount to punishing them for a wrong they have already paid for.
Giving ex-felons an equal footing in their search for employment proves that we as a society have faith in the rehabilitative property of our prison systems and absolve the ex-felon since they have already repaid their debt to society by serving time.
This paper will argue that employing ex-felons is beneficial and employers should therefore engage in it with less inhibition. To buttress this assertion, this paper has discussed the many advantages that can be accrued from employing ex-felons.
This paper has demonstrated that in most cases, the decision to not hire the felon is based on irrational fears as well as generalization of all felons as hardcore criminals who cannot be reformed. This is not always the case and as such, society should be willing to assist felons to lead an honest life by giving them employment through which they can make a meaningful living and consequently play a part in the noble task of building our great nation.
Liker, J. (1982). “Wage and status effects of employment on affective wellbeing among ex-felons.” American Sociological Review, 47(2), 264-283.
New York City Bar (2008). “Legal Employers Taking the Lead: Enhancing Employment Opportunities for the Previously Incarcerated.” New York City Bar Association Task Force. Retrieved from: http://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/Task_Force_Report08.pdf
Office of Justice Programs (2001). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/
Pattillo, M. & Weiman, D. (2006). Imprisoning America: The social Effect of Mass Incarceration. Russell Sage Foundation.
Petersilia, J. (2001). Prison Reentry: Public Safety and Reintegration Challenges.” The Prison Journal 81 (3): 360-375.
Saxonhouse, E. (2004). “Unequal Protection: Comparing Former Felon’s Challenges to Disenfranchisement and Employment Discrimination.” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 56.
Thompson, A. C. (2004). Navigating the Hidden Obstacles to Ex-Offender Reentry. Boston College Law Review. Vol. 45. Issue 2, no. 2.
Wodabl, J. E. (2006). “The Challenges of Prisoner Reenter from a Rural Perspective.” Western Criminology Review 7 (2), 32-47.