Job seekers

Job seekers with criminal backgrounds make up large portion of talent pool, study finds

ALBANY — The nation’s labor shortage continues to plague businesses, but a University of Albany professor has offered a solution: give people with criminal records a chance.

Shawn Bushway, a professor of public administration and politics at the school, is leading national research with the Rand Corporation to determine how many unemployed workers have criminal records and face restrictions entering the workforce at a time when there is a gaping hole.

He and researchers found that unemployed workers with criminal histories made up an astonishing percentage of potential workers when studying a national survey conducted by the Department of Labor in 1997. They concluded that about 64 percent of unemployed Americans had been arrested at the age of 35 and about 46% had been convicted.

According to the study, these rates also varied slightly by race and ethnicity, leading them to infer that for employers, selecting a white candidate over a black candidate will not change the odds of hiring someone. one with a file when choosing from a pool of unemployed subjects.

Bushway said the rate at which men have records or rap sheets is higher among those who are unemployed than for the general population. The same was true for women, and he noted that there was “a lot of anecdotal evidence” to suggest causation between unemployment and criminal records. His team determined that today’s employers may be more inclined to consider people with criminal records despite their traditional overcautiousness due to the tight job market.

Often employers are overly cautious when considering potential hires with records because they fear hiring someone who might do something harmful on the job or potentially face a lawsuit for hiring by negligence, Bushway explained.

“They end up not hiring because they’re very concerned about it, rightly so. I’m not saying hire everyone who has a record, but there are a lot of people who would make great employees,” he said.

Jennifer Scaife, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said formerly incarcerated people could be such a part of the workforce that they should not be overlooked.

When employers allow fear of risk to affect their hiring practices, it creates more barriers for these people in addition to the wasted time, skill building, and trauma they have to deal with.

And Bushway pointed out that the lack of opportunity given to them could lead some to commit additional crimes since they cannot support themselves or their families. Employers tend to put them all in one group, although research indicates that the risk of being a repeat offender is “pretty low” for many.

“There has to be a balancing (act) and in my opinion the current balancing is off kilter,” he said.

Scaife said there could be more prison programs focused on education, certifications and apprenticeships that allow people to have credentials for re-entering the workforce. Some initiatives are already in place in the form of tax incentives and bonding programs that governments offer to employers, although there is room for more.

Bushway gave the example of New York, a state pioneering such efforts by implementing policies that reduce barriers, including requiring employers to conduct personalized candidate assessments that go beyond lockers. judicial.

The Capital Region Trinity Alliance has created a workforce that intentionally recruits people with criminal backgrounds.


Alliance executive director Harris Oberlander said once the organization put in place career development supports to help its employees carry out their duties, it strengthened their workforce. ‘work.

Oberlander urges other employers to intentionally seek out these people, because while others struggle to find employees, the foundation of his business is stronger as a result. And he stressed that liability should not be a concern because there is a risk with any candidate, whether or not they have a criminal history.

“The people we hire have paid their debts to society, they’ve turned their lives around and are ready to join the workforce,” he said.