“This article appeared in the Washington Examiner and has been published here with permission.”

Alexis Martin is a young woman who was abused and sex-trafficked as a teenager, then denied her rights under Ohio’s Safe Harbor law to access services before facing legal proceedings, and ultimately convicted for a robbery that led to her pimp’s death. Now out of prison, her bid for a new life has hit yet another barrier: employment after incarceration.

The list of jobs that turned Martin down after a background check approaches the double digits: HVAC apprentice, two temp agencies, two delivery services, and a manufacturing job. Her story is all too familiar for many Americans who have paid their debt to society, only to encounter further roadblocks to getting a job and resuming a normal life. The U.S. Department of Justice says that around more than 600,000 Americans were released from state or federal prisons in 2018 and 2019, and according to the National Employment Law Project, between 60-75% of them do not find a job up to a year after their release, further fueling recidivism.  

Companies that disqualify applicants based on criminal records are cheating themselves out of finding talent. People with felony records constitute more than 8% of the U.S. population—nearly 25 million people. Businesses can ill-afford to disregard the skills and potential of those men and women, especially when many of them are well suited to the manufacturing sector and American companies are struggling to retain experienced workers. This spring, for example, Koch had 4000 job openings, 3000 of them in manufacturing.

Companies across the country would do well to “ban the box” revealing a criminal history on initial job applications, as my company did in 2015. We must focus on each job candidate’s qualifications and potential for the role, not on past mistakes.

To make a difference, corporate commitment must go beyond a job application to corporate strategy. For example, Koch Industries developed the “Creating Second Chances” strategy, which guides our companies to proactively recruit formerly incarcerated people. We refuse to disqualify a job seeker because of a criminal past, we ensure that our employees with criminal records do not face discrimination in the workplace, and we have made this commitment public. We believe that our whole society benefits when every member is given the opportunity to positively contribute to his or her community.

This is more than just pleasant rhetoric: between January and April of this year, we made 1,400 job offers to men and women who had past run-ins with the criminal justice system show up on their background checks.

Fortunately, there are plenty of companies in America who share our commitment to serve and rehabilitate former inmates, some of which you can see every day on supermarket shelves. After multiple stints in prison, the namesake of Dave’s Killer Bread, Dave Dahl, turned his life around and created a successful international brand. Today, Dave’s Killer Bread employs many formerly incarcerated people, and is a champion of second chance hiring.

Many HR and hiring professionals are interested in joining this growing movement, but often lack the information necessary to change employment practices. The Second Chance Business Coalition (SCBC) provides resources and education for employers to expand hiring for people with criminal records. SCBC shares experiences and expertise with business leaders, talent acquisition teams and human resources professionals so other companies can pursue more reentry hiring.

We are always looking for new members.

Corporate leaders who seek to partner with their communities should consider joining us. This mission not only expands the talent pool available to employers, but contributes to the dignity of our fellow citizens, helping men and women to rebuild towards a future they once lost. It is a win-win for American industry and our society.   

This is the land of second chances, and more businesses and people like Alexis are proving it every day.

John Buckley is the Outreach Strategies Manager for Koch Industries.

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