Businesses pledge the next step for criminal justice reform

January 27, 2019

min read

About 95 percent of the people currently incarcerated across the United States will one day rejoin their communities. Regardless of whether they have been to prison, about 1 in 3 Americans carries a criminal record. For too many, unnecessary barriers to employment prevent them from realizing their full potential through employment once they are released and deprive potential organizations of qualified talent. Today, there are more than 6 million unemployed in the U.S. but about 7 million open jobs, reflecting a shortage of qualified workers. Nobody in society benefits from this cycle—businesses, communities, or individuals.

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Signed into law at the end of 2018, the FIRST STEP Act represented the most significant federal criminal justice reform in more than a generation. With improvements to the prison system, fairer sentencing guidelines, and greater access to programs that help incarcerated people transform their lives, the legislation seeks to provide second chances for those who have earned them and ensure that they are able to succeed and help others as well. This year, Koch Industries is taking the next step.

For decades, Koch Industries has hired qualified candidates with criminal records. In 2015, Koch officially banned the box on criminal history for initial job applications, focusing on each job candidate’s qualifications and potential for the role, not on their past mistakes. With that same commitment, Koch has recently signed on to the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge, adopting the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Resource Toolkit for Business.

“Employers like Koch Industries are taking this pledge to help more people succeed upon re-entering society. We have seen meaningful criminal justice reform in states across the country and at the federal level with last year’s landmark FIRST STEP Act,” said Koch Senior Vice President Mark Holden. “For decades, Koch has considered and hired qualified applicants seeking second chances. That’s how we know businesses can play a role in strengthening our communities and making them safer for all.”

The SHRM toolkit for employers is three-fold: (1.) Learn the research and legal factors around hiring workers with a criminal background; (2.) Apply evidence-based best practices in hiring those with a criminal background, and in tailoring inclusion programs for them based on sample policies, guides, and checklists; and (3.) Get practical guidance from industry leaders in acquiring, developing, and promoting talent.

“This is a group we, as business leaders, cannot afford to overlook as nearly 1 in 3 adults in the United States currently has a criminal background,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of SHRM. “Not only is it the right thing to do—to give a deserving person a second chance—but it is becoming imperative as businesses continue to experience recruiting difficulty at an alarming rate.”

The benefit of hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds is more than just about providing second chances, managers and HR professionals indicated in a recent survey conducted by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute. They also cited the importance of hiring the most qualified candidates from a diverse pool and the opportunity to improve their communities. In the same survey, more than 82 percent of hiring managers said workers with a criminal history are high-quality hires equal to or even more effective than those who do not have a record.

“Too many unnecessary barriers prevent formerly incarcerated individuals and our communities from fully realizing their potential,” Holden said. “We are proud to partner with other businesses to provide second chances for qualified people with a criminal background who have earned their chance at redemption. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to take this next step toward greater justice for all.”

Read more about the Getting Talent Back to Work Pledge and Koch’s ongoing commitment to criminal justice reform.