By Steve Gordon
I got an email from a good friend I had in state prison. He was victimized by the system and his eventual parole was delayed, but he is out from behind the fences and razor wire. Here is what he wrote me, in part:
"After a 1 year hit (for no reason whatsoever), I was released from SCI XXXXXX on Aug. 15th. I'm loving everything...It's like seeing everything through the eyes of a child with the wisdom of an adult to appreciate it."
MW is a US Marine veteran and a person of character. Truth be told there are more people like him behind bars (as they like to say on the TV news) and the corrections overcrowding that is a drain on the state budget could be alleviated if more were released. Unfortunately it seems the system doesn't work that way and there are still too many people out there who subscribe to the lock them up and throw away the key mentality.
I responded to his email and if I can do anything to help him I will try. He asked to see some pictures, golf pictures, and I think I can accommodate that request.
This is a blog about reentry into society for persons released from prison and the many difficulties and barriers they face. The writings contained in this blog come from personal experience and they are intended to put out information from the real life adventures I have come up against with navigating my reentry into society. The blog welcomes submissions from anyone who is or has gone through reentry after prison as well as from any authorities, organizations, etc. with information that would be help for prisoners with their reentry to society after incarceration.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Saturday, August 17, 2013
The following is a copy of a paper written by a college student who contacted me for insights and information on my outlook on issues of ex-felons working to became part of society after incarceration. It may be of interest to you. I have copied here in its entirety but I have edited the author's name out.
Should Congress abolish the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) Guidelines ?
Introduction of the Social Problems
Steven Gordon, was convicted in 2000 on aggravated assault and aggravated sexual assault charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Once he was released from prison, he found he had a chance to start over, but it was at an expensive cost. He lost his wife in a divorce, he lost his house, he lost all of his money and his pension, he lost a relationship with his daughter and son, and as a result he lost a relationship with his grandchildren. He now lives with his elderly parents, spending most of his time taking care of them while working a part-time job in the food industry, and trying to repair the relationships with his children. He has learned first-hand that reentering society as an ex-convict isn’t easy, “a slap in the face and back to reality” as he calls it. He would replay in his mind what he would routinely hear on his job search, “We can’t hire people who have been convicted of a felony. It’s the law”. In his blog he writes, “Isn’t it funny how one bad thing can overshadow an entire life of doing good things?” This is a perfect example of someone who has been convicted of a crime, served their time, and is struggling trying to reenter society. One of the most important parts of “re-entry” is finding employment, however having a criminal record could be a significant barrier. The greatest barrier felons have when seeking employment is the fact that 80% of all employers use background checks when conducting hiring decisions (Ford, 2009). Seeing any type of crime on someone’s background check can quickly result in tossing out their application. Many ex-convicts have a hard time finding not only a good job, but a job in general. Employers are reluctant to hire an ex-felon out of fear of legal liability and safety. Now employers risk facing civil lawsuits and charges of discrimination if a criminal background check rules out someone who is qualified thanks to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) new Guidelines. This prompts the debate regarding whether or not Congress should abolish the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) Guidelines on employers accessing criminal records of job seekers.
The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world. According to Ross and Richards (2009) in their book Beyond Bars: Rejoining Society After Prison, over 7 million juvenile and adults are in correctional custody. Out of those 7 million people, 2.3 million are incarcerated and 4.2 million are on probation, with around 785,000 people on parole. Every year in the United States, about 15 million people are arrested and spend at least one night in jail (Ross and Richards, 2009). These statistics show large amounts of people flow into the criminal justice system every year and as a result, many will also come out. There are real concerns for the public safety when felons get released from prison because they are likely to fall back into crime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2007, about 1.2 million people were at risk for being reincarcerated, when in fact about 16% of them were rearrested. Among the 300,000 released individuals from 15 states, 67% of them were incarcerated within 3 years (Bureau Justice of Statistics, 2013).
High incarceration affects millions of people, however these rates across the United States are unequal. High incarceration rates are usually concentrated in urban impoverished communities, inhabited by minority populations (Clear and Tonry, 2008). Although anyone has the possibility of being arrested, records show minority men most often finds themselves behind bars. About 90% of men are currently behind bars and men are 10 times more likely to be arrested than women (Ross and Richards, 2009). The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 9% of all men will spend time in a federal or state prison at some point in their lives and this estimate is increasing. According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) imprisonment rates for African American men are 7 times higher than white men and almost 3 times higher than Hispanic men (Bovard, J., 2013). African Americans only make up 13% of the general U.S. population, but African American men and women make up almost 50% of those incarcerated. These rates have shed light on the criminal justice system and has many questioning the racial stereotypes that might drive their practices. Thompson (2008) believes that this is an alarming statistic and it is unfortunate that the incarceration of these individuals is undermining the development of their communities and their potential of being responsible members of society.
High incarceration rates don’t only affect those who are imprisoned, but can actually have serious consequences on those who may never be imprisoned themselves (Clear and Tonry, 2008). High incarceration rates can have devastating effects on the children and families of those behind bars and even the safety and infrastructure of a community. There are estimates of about 2.3 million children, or almost 3% of the under-18 population has a parent in prison (Clear and Tonry, 2008). Several studies have found that a child who has a parent in prison are three to four times more likely to become a delinquent and two and a half times more likely to develop a mental disorder (Clear and Tonry, 2008). Researchers also suggest a connection between parental incarceration and school failure, underemployment, and illegal drug use (Clear and Tonry, 2008). One-fourth of juveniles arrested and convicted of a crime have children at the time of their incarceration (Clear and Tonry, 2008). In addition, there is evidence that “high rates of incarceration destabilizes families, increases rates of delinquency, increases rates of teenage births, foster alienation of youth from prosocial norms, damages social networks, and weakens labor markets” (Clear, and Tonry, 2008)
Another population of people affected by high incarceration rates who don’t live in the urban communities most prone to high arrest rates is the taxpayer. Even the average person is affected by high incarceration rates because they give taxes to the state and federal governments which contribute to incarcerating the criminal population. The average cost per inmate in 2001 was $22,650 or $62.05 a day (Stephan, 2004). In just one fiscal year in 2001, the Bureau Justice of Statistics (BJS) reported that correctional authorities spent over $38 billion. Although that doesn’t seem like much, the millions of people incarcerated becomes costly especially overtime. In fact, a large part of federal spending includes maintaining prisons. According to BJS, the top state expenditures in 2001 are education ($374.5 billion), public welfare ($260.3 billion), health ($43.7 billion), total corrections ($38.2 billion), prisons ($29.5 billion), natural resources ($17.3 billion) (Stephan, 2004). As a result, supporting the prison systems is something that many money, taxes, and resources will be dedicated to decades to come.
As you can see these social problems of high incarceration rates, overrepresentation of minorities incarcerated, government spending, and its negative impacts on families, relationships and the future of communities are a cycle and each deeply affects the other. High incarceration rates of minorities negatively impact their communities in economic ways but it also precipitates their children to follow in their criminal footsteps. Objective harm is affecting those incarcerated, their children, families, communities, and society at large. Everyone has known someone behind bars are will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. “As many as 700,000 families have a loved one behind bars on any given day” (Clear and Tonry, 2008). Their harm still continues once released through social stigma, the public’s perceptions, and discrimination regarding their criminal record that will always follow them. This concerns many researchers and advocates are concerned because they fully understand the barriers the recently released will face.
The last social problem is recidivism rates. Imprisonment as punishment is meant to teach those incarcerated a lesson. They are supposed to learn that what they did was wrong and they should not commit another crime. Being incarcerated should prompt a change in the offenders’ assessment of the benefits and costs of crime so they weigh the costs of crime more heavily and it should increase their favoring of legitimate work instead of illegal means to live (Freeman, 2003). However, not many people learn that lesson. “About one third of those who are imprisoned once, get imprisoned again; of those who go a second time, four-fifths will return repeatedly” (Clear and Tonry, 2008). Prison was intended to get people out of a life of crime, but sometimes it turns people into a life with crime. For many men released between the ages of 20-40, prison becomes a revolving door (Freeman, 2003). Research data shows the vast majority of prisoners are recidivating back into a life of crime, meaning they are not being properly rehabilitated (Freeman, 2003). About two-thirds of prisoners released from prison are re-arrested and one-half are re-incarcerated within three years of their release from prison (Freeman, 2003). After three years, rates of recidivism rise to a 75%-80% chance of likelihood to be rearrested, and this number doesn’t increase until the men hit their mid-forties (Freeman, 2003). As you can see, recidivism remains to be a huge problem. However, the key to a successful reentry into society for a ex-felon is to find housing and a stable job.
Causes of High Incarceration Rates
According the Michael Tonry (1999) there are five explanations to why United States incarceration rates are so high. The first reason is empirical. It states that crime rates in the U.S. aren’t higher than any other country’s in the world. Incarceration rates have increased because it because the most desired strategy politicians enacted as a means to lower crime rates. (Tonry, 1999). The second explanation is that public opinion has largely controlled incarceration rates. Once city surveys show the American public believe crime and drugs are the most pressing problems, city leaders express that sentencing guidelines are too lenient and demand tougher penalties (Tonry, 1999). As a result, elected officials respect the public’s wishes and enact tougher laws (Tonry, 1999). The third is the journalistic explanation which refers to the mass media’s over-reporting of sensational news stories such as crime in order to show that crime is occurring more than it actually is, creating a crime myth (Kappeler and Potter, 2005). It is the mass media, the government, and reform groups who lobby their interests that are the most powerful myth makers because they select what the public should see as a crime problem in order to garner the type of support they want to pass certain laws (Kappeler, and Potter, 2005). The forth reason is political. Crime and punishment have always been a priority on American political agendas since the Civil Rights movements (Tonry, 1999). The Democratic and Republican parties have disagree on issues of crime control, welfare, and affirmative action (Tonry, 1999). Once one of these parties are in office, policies are enacted or change to become more harsh or loose depending on what they think will be effective, causing fluctuations in incarceration rates (Tonry, 1999). The last explanation is historical. Although it is complex, it is “interaction between crime trends, public attitudes, and policy that shape our thoughts, our policy debates, and our policies, creating a predictable result” (Tonry, 1999).
The most important terms in this paper are “ban the box”, “reentry”, and “recidivism”. “Ban the box” is a movement counties, cities, and even some states have been taking on. It is a nationwide effort to remove the box on an employment application that asks if those job-seeking have ever been convicted of a crime. This process delays the inquiry until later on in the interview process that way a person with criminal record is not immediately screened out before the employer sees how qualified they are for the job (Henry, 2008; United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 1987). It should be clear that background screening can be conducted as well as questions regarding their criminal history. However, this could depend on what the city agrees upon. The main purpose behind ban the box is to give felons more opportunities at being considered for a job. However, ban the box is not obligating employers to hire ex-convicts. It is simply giving ex-convicts who are qualified for a job a more fair chance at being evaluated based on their skill level and not their past. “Reentry” refers to the release of the ex-convicts from prison and their transition back into a normal civilian life. Lastly, “recidivism” occurs when a prisoner engages in criminal activity within the first three years of their release and they were either arrested, convicted, and/or sent back to prison (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013).
For the purpose of this paper, I will be focusing on felons and ex-convicts overall, but I might go into specific types of crimes and the differences in the treatment by society as it becomes relevant. An issue that comes up in the research alongside criminal background checks is credit checks. This is something I will not be discussing because I am not interested in the financial plight of reentry. I will also limit discussing the obstacles of employment regarding those of mental illness, substance abuse history, and sex offenders. I will include points regarding housing but only as it is relevant to discussing successful reentry into society as it would provide stability for felons. Housing is just as important as finding employment for felons but for the focus of the paper, it is best not to include another topic as it would make my paper too broad and much longer.
To further understand the causes of high incarceration rates and recidivism we must examine the history behind this social problem. Incarceration as a form of punishment has always been a part of civilized society. Although imprisonment has been a part of early colonial life in the United States, it wasn’t until the 20th and 21st centuries that dramatic changes took place. From 1970 to 2010, the United States has the highest incarceration rate than any other country in the world (Thompson, 2010). In 2006 alone, over 7.3 million people were involved in the criminal justice system either by being in jail, prison, or on parole or probation (Thompson, 2010). In the most recent years, soaring incarceration rates have become problematic as they have had devastating costs on taxpayers, the millions of felons themselves and their families, the economy, policymakers, and society as a whole. But how did it get this way?
In the 1800s and 1900s, the United States was undergoing their Industrial Revolution. Many immigrated from all over the world looking for a new life settling into large cities where work could be found in factories. Larger cities, or urban areas, became crime hotspots because the population was both dense and diverse. After WWII, the urban cities that were once the livelihood of the U.S. soon experienced deep racial and political conflicts, enormous distress from “economic disinvestment”, and inevitable poverty (Thompson, 2010). “Criminalization of urban space” began to occur and produced mass incarceration. This is the process of minority urban dwellers [both men and women] become increasingly supervised, regulated, and oftentimes apprehended (Thompson, 2010). However, law enforcement’s focus or ‘scrutiny’ on urban African Americans had roots in earlier decades because of previous prejudices (Thompson, 2010). Researchers and social scientists at the time, collected census data trying to ‘prove’ that African Americans were apt to be criminally deviant and therefore needed more surveillance (Thompson, 2010). In addition, the white working class was no longer associated with criminality as they had new citizenship and a new class position. Instead, society began shifting its attention to the poor urban African Americans and oftentimes blamed them for all new crime issues occurring in America. As a result, Caucasian Americans were becoming concerned for their safety and called for more policing (Thompson, 2010).
The civil rights movements of the 1960s, also called the “Second Reconstruction” symbolized the rebirth of the United States via social activism (Thompson, 2010). Revolutions and social protests demanded equality and an end of discrimination for marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, women, prisoner’s rights, and lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people. The United States Congress then passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It also made it illegal to retaliate against anyone who complained, filed, or was involved in a case regarding discrimination (United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 1987).
Even though laws granting equality were passed, that doesn’t mean people were treated equally. This is especially true regarding drug legislation the 1970s. In 1973, New York State passed the Rockefeller drug laws, named after the previous governor Nelson Rockefeller. These laws enforced stricter penalties on all criminals, but particularly those who engaged in the use, possession, and distribution of illegal drugs (Thompson, 2010). Consequently, by the mid-1970s, New York’s prison population soared. By the 1990s, over 30% of those in prison were convicted of drug offenses (Thompson, 2010). The nation followed suit, and the incarceration rates of the urban populations skyrocketed (Thompson, 2010). Law enforcement nationwide raged their new war on drugs specifically towards cities and minority communities (Thompson, 2010).
By beginning of the 1980s, the prison population was high. The data began showing how a large number of the prison population included individuals of color, this prompted the United State Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to take action. In November of 1985 at a commission hearing, the commission approved of a policy modification that deemed necessary in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under Title VII, the law prohibits any employer that discriminates against a person because of his or her criminal record, particularly concerned with the discrimination against minorities with a record. If an employer was alleged to be discriminatory against a potential employee based off of their record, they must prove that their decision was justified by: “(1) the nature and gravity of the offense(s), (2) the time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence, and (3) the nature of the job sought or held” (United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 1987). The EEOC’s reasoning behind this law was that simply screening out applicants with a record will result in a discriminatory effect on African-Americans and Latinos because of their overrepresentation in the prison population. As a result, in 1987, the EEOC ruled that only records that lead to convictions, not arrests, would be reasonable grounds in hiring decisions (United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 1987). Ever since these guidelines have been passed, the EEOC has been investigating cases regarding criminal record discrimination.
A few decades later, in the early 2000s the numbers of released prisoners were beginning to climb. In 2004, Boston had become the first city to pass “ban the box” legislation (Rodriguez, and Emsellem, 2013). According to the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project website, “banning the box will allow qualified people with criminal history records to more fairly for employment, will contribute to increased public safety, will decrease recidivism, and will bring economic benefits to their families as well as their community”. Over the next eight years more than 43 jurisdictions across the United States have passed ban the box legislation. Currently, ban the box legislation isn’t nationwide, it is typically enacted at a city or county level, however some states have passed ban the box legislation, such as Colorado and New Mexico (Rodriguez and Emsellem, 2013). Proponents of ban the box would love to see it eventually passed at a federal level.
As of April 2012, the EEOC passed its first Enforcement Guidelines regarding employers’ use of arrest and conviction records when making hiring decisions (Lessack, 2013). They made it clear that if employers had any criminal convictions policies that had a direct impact on race and/or national origin, they would have to defend their policies before the EEOC (Lessack, 2013). The Guidance does recognize that denying employment of someone with a criminal record cannot be a violation of Title VII unless it relates to discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (Lessack, 2013). However, it can fall under Title VII if there is a charge of intentional discrimination or if it can be proven that an employer treated applicants with comparable criminal records differently (Lessack, 2013). The EEOC strongly advises that employers not use blanket policies against convictions for criminal records, encourages employers to disregard arrests that didn’t lead to convictions, and highly encourages employers to conduct individualized assessments of applicants with criminal convictions (Don, 2013). Next, the EEOC says when conducting an individualized assessment they should consider factors such as: the nature or gravity of the offense in relationship to the duties of the job and the time since the conviction or completion of the sentence, relationship between the person’s records and the duties of the job, the age of the person when they were convicted, and evidence of rehabilitation and use these to determine whether they are a good fit for the company and the job (Don, 2013).. They should also allow the prospective employee the chance to discuss and refute any information found in a background check. Some states such as Maryland and Virginia have passed laws prohibiting an employee seeking a job to disclose any criminal charges in an interview when they have been expunged from their record or those that did not result in a conviction (Don, 2013). Sometimes federal and state level jobs are exempt from the ban the box legislation. Jobs that are federal, or public such as transportation, and jobs exposing ex-convicts to vulnerable populations such as the sick, the elderly, or the young are exempt from ban the box as background screenings are necessary to make sure vulnerable populations are taken advantage of (Roberts, 2004). Some opponents of the new EEOC guidelines are not happy about the guidelines, especially because they mainly impact private businesses. Let’s examine these controversies a little further.
Opponent and Proponent Stakeholders
Opponents believe the EEOC was correct in placing restrictions on employers’ access to criminal records throughout the application process and the EEOC Guidelines should not be abolished by Congress. Some general opponent stakeholders includes academia involved in researching criminology, criminal justice, and sociology. Some other general opponents might include civil rights groups and advocacy groups that focus on issues of race, discrimination, and prisoner’s rights, etc. Some specific opponent stakeholders include the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, the National Law Employment Project, and the National H.I.R.E. Network. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the government’s authority for the enforcement of federal laws making it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant. Businesses and companies with at least 15 employees are subject to the EEOC’s laws. The EEOC is currently investigating cases and administering their federal guidelines employers should consider during the hiring process (United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 2013). The National Employment Law Project is an advocacy group that partners with national, state, and local allies, to promote programs for economic equality, security, and opportunity. They support programs that create good jobs, enforce workers-rights, and help those unemployed regain their footing (The National Employment Law Project, 2013). The National H.I.R.E. Network is an advocacy group whose goal is to increase the amount of good job opportunities to those with criminal records by promoting changes to public policies, employment practices, and pubic opinions. They often collaborate with other advocacy groups, practitioners, policymakers, and those in the criminal justice system (The National H.I.R.E. Network, 2013).
Proponents believe the EEOC Guidelines should be abolished by Congress. The EEOC should not place restrictions or any guidelines on their private business practices, and they should have full access to the criminal records of those seeking employment with them. Some general stakeholders may include independent, small, private, corporate, or organizational business owners. Other general stakeholders may include people employed in the human resource department of the federal, state, public, or private sector. Lastly, some general stakeholders may include lawyers that represent business owners best interests and background screening companies. Some specific proponent stakeholders include the National Association for Professional Background Screeners, the Heritage Foundation, and Carco Group, Inc. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners is an organization dedicated to representing the interests of companies by providing tenant, employment and background screenings. They also provide standards and the promotion of ethical business practices as well as a reliable and competent screening practice (National Association of Professional Background Screeners, 2013). The Heritage Foundation is a research, educational and think tank who constructs and advocates conservative public policies based around individual freedom, limited government, free enterprise, traditional American vales, and a strong national defense. They are one of the nation’s largest public policy research organizations (The Heritage Foundation, 2013). Carco Group, Inc is a company dedicated to supplying their employer clients with a reliable, stable, and accurate means of with “critical information” in order maximize risk mitigation. They pride themselves on their leadership and integrity and professional services to the companies they serve (Carco Group, Inc, 2013).
Opponent and Proponent Arguments
The main three arguments that both proponents and opponents of keeping the EEOC Guidelines touch on include: discrimination of ex-felons, workplace and public safety, and legitimacy of using criminal records in hiring decisions. Let’s first start with the opponent’s perspectives. Once ex-felons are released, they face a number of structural barriers including, employer discrimination and legal limitations of what types of jobs they can obtain (Henry, 2008). Opponents of abolishing the Guidelines believe they help prevent discriminatory hiring practices. They claim that some employers not only discriminate against ex-felons because of their criminal record, but they could possibly racially discriminating too. They cite evidence from Devah Pager’s experimental results showed out of the white job seekers without a criminal record they received twice as many calls back (34%) from employers compared to their white counterparts with a criminal record (17%). While on the other hand, African Americans without a criminal record only received 14% calls back, which is almost three times more than the African Americans with a criminal record (5%) (Henry and Jacobs, 2007). It is the preconceived notion that blacks are “dangerous” and “criminal” that become rationals for employers to discriminate during the hiring process (Sampson and Laub, 1993). As mentioned previously, other structural forms of discrimination include high incarceration rates. The EEOC backs up these claims using research from Bovard’s study in 2013 that African American men were 7 times higher than white men and almost 3 times higher than Hispanic men. In November of 1985, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believed businesses denying individuals’ employment because of their conviction records is becoming increasingly problematic. The members of the EEOC agreed that an employer’s policy or practice of excluding individuals from employment on the basis of their conviction records has an adverse impact on African Americans and Hispanics in light of the high incarceration rates. As a result, the EEOC upheld and still upholds that such practices and policies are discriminatory in nature, and therefore violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Title VII, in the absence of justifying business necessity (United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, 1987).
Another claim opponents make is that having a stable job increases public safety by reducing recidivism rates. Criminologists are in a universal agreement that ex-felons are less likely to drift back to criminal activity if they lack employment opportunities (Henry, 2008). Lockwood, Nally, Knutson & Ho’s results (2012) have shown that “post-release employment is the single most important predictor of successful reentry or recidivism because it provides former prisoners with a consistent source of funding for food, shelter, clothing, transportation and increases feelings of self-efficacy and self-sufficiency, while building confidence in released prisoners that they can support themselves without needing to resort to criminal activities and serves as a protective factor against future criminal activity ”. Cities in the U.S. have realized when ex-offenders lack employment prospects they are at risk for increased rates of recidivism, as well as public safety, social, and economic costs. As a result various U.S. cities and counties have begun experimenting with legislation to help provide more employment opportunities for felons and what they came up with was “ban the box” legislation (Henry, 2008). Lockwood, Nally, Knutson, & Ho also found in their 2012 study that 53% of offenders found a job in less than a year, while the other 47% took at least one year or more to find a job. This becomes scary because two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested and one-half are reincarcerated within three years after their release (Freeman, 2003). Thus by ex-convicts finding stable jobs their communities become a safer place. Without legislation such as ban the box it makes it harder for felons find work and a place to live making them ever closer to homelessness (Simmons, 2010).
The last main argument opponents and proponents disagree on is whether or not accessing and viewing criminal records is legitimate enough to be considered in hiring decisions. Opponents believe ex-felons have already paid their debt to society and served their time in prison and therefore deserve a chance at starting over. Opponents do not believe criminal records provide legitimate grounds to reject an ex-felon job application. There are millions of people every year getting arrested and convicted of minor charges. For example, back in 2004, a company on Wall Street was prepared to hire a candidate for a high-level position when they had found on the FBI database he was arrested for breaking and entering (which he forgot to mention) in Atlanta a few years earlier (Roberts, 2004). When asked to explain his record, the investigators discovered he had broke and entered onto his own property when he was checking on it after the previous tenants moved out without paying rent. The charges were dropped, but the arrest stayed on his record (Roberts, 2004). Ken Springer, the investigator of this case and president of Corporate Resolutions Inc, a background screening company, said he had to dig deep to confirm these charges were dismissed. He also claims relying only on online databases is one of the worst practices, because even the FBI database (which is considered the gold standard) is often incomplete (Roberts, 2004). “Many of the people in these databases never go to jail. So if you find a record, talk to the candidate. Don’t have an inquisition, have a conversation”, says Springer (Roberts, 2004). In a 2010 poll from the Society for Human Resource Management, found organizations and agencies that are hired by businesses check for criminal records in 73% of all job candidates (Roberts, 2004). Bill Kesser, the assistant director of HR in the city of Boston even states that criminal backgrounds do not matter for a large number of jobs, but by keeping the question on application we are saying it does. Upon passing ban the box legislation, he says Boston doesn’t want to create an underclass of people out of work (Roberts, 2004). As a result, you cannot always trust that background checks will be accurate, therefore it is not a legitimate and reliable means of justifying the refusal to hire someone with a record.
In contrast, proponents do not agree that they are discriminating against ex-felons because of their criminal records. Proponents of abolishing the EEOC Guidelines acknowledge the data proving the prison inmate population is highest among African Americans and Hispanics. However, they say the result of most prisons being made up of minorities is not because of structural discrimination in the criminal justice system and policing practices, but it is simply because African Americans and Hispanics are the ones committing more crime (von Spakovsky, 2012). Other refutes against the opponent discrimination argument include the fact that there is no federal law against turning away someone seeking employment from a business if they have a criminal record (von Spakovsky, 2012). Proponents say that the EEOC Guidelines are built on “faulty premises” because felons are not a protected class under federal law. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protected classes against discrimination are on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (von Spakovsky, 2012). As a result, employers are not racially discriminating against ex-felons seeking employment. But they are entitled to the right to turn away someone with a criminal record and they are not legally liable. Furthermore, the proponents say EEOC Guidelines in place actually backfire and make it harder for African Americans and Hispanics to find employment. They claim that because employers overestimate the likelihood that African American and Hispanic job applicants have prior felony convictions, background checks that show they have a clean record may actually increase the likelihood that they will be hired (von Spakovsky, 2012). Results of a survey data in 2009 collected from the Multi-city Study of Urban Inequality, showed that out of the 600 establishments surveyed, the hiring rates of black men increased once employers performed background checks during the hiring process (von Spakovsky, 2012). In conclusion, proponents raise the question that the EEOC Guidelines might contribute to workplace discrimination.
While opponents of abolishing the Guidelines point out that employing felons can increase public safety while reducing recidivism, proponents refute this. They believe opponents are ignoring data on recidivism of felons. Proponents believe that a felon cannot be “judged to be less or equally likely to commit a future violent act than individuals who have no prior violent history. It is possible that those differences are small but making such predictions is extremely difficult and the criminological discipline provides no good basis for making predictions with any assurance they will be correct” (von Spakovsky, 2012). However, proponents’ main concerns revolve around workplace safety. It is the job of the business owners, the human resource departments, and background screening companies to keep workplaces safe and free of harm. If employers are nott careful they can not only bring about harm to their employees, but harm to economic prosperity as well. Proponents point to a scary example. In 2010, a biology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville shot and killed three of her colleagues and wounded three others after she was denied tenure (von Spakovsky, 2012). The university didn’t conduct a criminal background search because if they did they would have found she was convicted in 2002 for a misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct. Proponents said that under the EEOC’s Guidelines, such a misdemeanor conviction wouldn’t have been enough for the university to refuse to employ her. However, the propensity for violent conduct revealed by the conviction on her record “manifested itself tragically at the school eight years later” (von Spakovsky, 2012). It is the dangers such as these that companies, business owners, human resource departments, and background screening companies are so desperately trying to prevent. Furthermore, the EEOC Guidelines are putting employers at risk for financial harm exposing them to serious liabilities. Employers are at risk of facing civil lawsuits for racial discrimination by the EEOC and for negligent hiring lawsuits filed by their current employees which are now becoming commonplace (von Spakovsky, 2012). By taking these matters to court, employers could suffer their economic success through the loss of customers and valuable time and money spent in court.
Lastly, proponents of abolishing the Guidelines believe using criminal histories are a legitimate means to justify a hiring decision. They strongly believe that criminal records should remain public record for anyone to be able to view every time. By the EEOC placing restrictions on employer’s access to viewing criminal records, the companies and employees are now at risk. Employers believe that it is their right to be able to access criminal histories because it is public record and it is essential to know in order to assess the risk of hiring a prospective employee. An example of the potential liability employers are exposed to when hiring convicted felons is a case that reached the Indiana Court of Appeals in March 2012. A motel was successfully sued by the estate of one of its guests when they were robbed and murdered by a prior employee who obtained the motel’s master key. The motel had not done a criminal background check on the employee, which would have shown their prior criminal history that included juvenile battery, criminal trespassing, burglary, theft, and stolen property (von Spakovsky, 2012). As a result, opponents believe there should not be any federal guidelines placing restrictions on their ability to access a job-seeker’s criminal records during the hiring practices. Business owners and human resource departments should have the right to make their own best judgement calls especially when it comes to deciding who is best for the open position at their company. Legal guidance is the answer, not censorship (von Spakovsky, 2012). Furthermore, employers feel like they are being forced into hiring people they don’t feel comfortable employing and they are put into a situation they aren’t happy with.
Current Plans and Actions
As for what is happening currently, there is no policy currently being lobbied at the federal level. Various cities and counties across the United States could be lobbying for ban the box to pass through their city council, but for the most part everyone is going at their own pace. It only seems to get brought up if there is a special group lobbying for it or if a city political leader decides they want to pass it. At the federal level, the EEOC continues to try to enforce their Guidelines and they are actively investigating cases that come to their attention and pursue them to court. For example, in January of 2012 Pepsi paid $3.1 million to settle the EEOC’s charges over screening out applicants who had arrest records and vowed to take a more individualized approach regarding the consideration of an applicant’s background (Katel, 2012). For the most part, opponents of the EEOC guidelines are doing their best to consider the guidelines regarding the hiring processes. Some human resource departments are educating their hiring staff on the EEOC guidelines and making sure they are familiar with the policies. Interestingly enough, my interviews with experts in hiring and background screening were not familiar with either the EEOC Guidelines or the Ban the Box legislation. On the other hand, some Human Resource departments are trying to find loopholes in the EEOC guidelines as well. Nixon and Kerr in their book Background Screening and Investigations: Managing hiring risk from the HR and security perspectives (2008) wrote about the issue regarding discrimination against previously incarcerated individuals seeking a job. They said employers could have “ a solid defense if you have previously classified a job as sensitive and identified the criminal offenses that would preclude a person from consideration for the position”. Other stakeholders such as the National Association for Professional Background Screeners are constantly involved in educating its members to empower themselves to better serve their employer clients. Another group that currently lobbies is the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project. They are are dedicated to educating the public on the issues associated with felon reentry by spreading personal stories of ex-convicts and trying to get volunteers to sign a petition, and encouraging citizens to call their city council in support ban the box legislation. If invited, the FCCP will also come out and speak to a group about these issues. Essentially, there hasn’t been a large current social movement regarding felon re-entry and ban the box legislation because it only concerns city ordinances and counties at a time. So when support or opposition occurs, it doesn’t ripple across the rest of the United States, but instead stays in that region with people divided among the issue.
Critical Analysis of Opponent Arguments
As mentioned earlier, opponents contested that employers were discriminating against not only ex-felons but also colored ex-felons. They used Devah Pager’s results highlighting that even whites with criminal records (17%) get more calls back from employers in comparison to African Americans with a clean record (14%). Devah Pager, is a credible academic, receiving her Master’s degree in conducting Sociological experiments from Stanford University. Her study was a field experiment which is the most valuable and credible research design that can be carried out because a variable that is manipulated in the natural environment making the results more reliable. Her results were published in a peer reviewed journal, showing more strength in their field results and credibility because her methodology was carefully scrutinized by her fellow professionals in the field of Sociology. This study’s results were published in 2003, making these results ten years old. If someone were to repeat her results in the present-day, she would have more credibility. She also duplicated the findings that Schwartz and Skolnick found in the 1960s, so that says something that at least 4 decades later that racial discriminatory hiring practices was still occurring. There is possibility racial discrimination in hiring practices still exists. Lastly, regarding Pager’s study, her results might not be completely sufficient. The job-postings her research subjects responded to where within a very limited geographic location. They only replied to job postings to interview for that were within a 25-mile radius from downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In addition, Milwaukee’s 2000 census data records show it over 60% of it’s inhabitants were Caucasian and 30% were African American in the 1990s. Towards the present day the demographics are 45% Caucasian and 37% African American (City of Milwaukee, 2013). This goes to show, that perhaps this city might have engaged in more biased or have discriminatory behaviors towards minorities that carried over into their hiring practices. The last piece of evidence opponents cite in the discrimination debate, is research reported and cited by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, showing African American men get incarcerated at seven times the rate of Caucasian men. The EEOC is a very credible source because they are a branch of the federal government committed to boosting employment of protected groups (Bovard, 2013). The EEOC’s funding comes from the federal government which conducts research on social issues. Their research has also been more current, releasing their findings in 2012. Their evidence found from their studies support the claim they are making that some discrimination is taking place, therefore their argument is warranted.
Opponents next claim is that employment is the single-most important factor in predicting recidivism rates (Lockwood, Nally, Knutson, and Ho, 2012). They used evidence from Lockwood, Nally, Knuston, Ho and Freeman. Lockwood, Nally, Knutson and Ho’s study was important in showing felons finding employment made them successful at reentry. Their study was published in The Peer Reviewed Journal of the American Correctional Association in Spring 2012. Therefore, their research is current which strengthen their arguments. Susan Lockwood, John Nally, Katie Knutson, and Taiping Ho all work in the Education Division of the Indiana Department of Corrections, making them very credible and reliable sources of information. Their research study used in the proponents arguments was a longitudinal study that followed a little more than 6,560 offenders upon release from five counties in Indiana that lasted five years (from 2005-2010). Their research has a very large data sample, includes a relatively large geographic area, follows their subjects for five years with recent publications on their results all contribute to a very sufficient argument. Richard Freeman’s journal article was published in 2003. Although this makes the article a little outdated, his credibility makes up for it. His article was a The Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable Discussion Paper. Richard Freeman works for Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, ultimately publishing his article in the New York University Law School Journal. Although opponents believe and have researched to some extent that having a job significantly reduces recidivism, I have concluded there needs to be more research done on this matter. There are many other factors needing to be considered when determining if it is the job that makes an ex-felon successful and not likely to recidivate. Such factors include: addictions, mental illness, education levels, skill sets, a supportive family to return to, or even the essentials of clothing, shelter, transportation, identification, and money. Research should further examine just how these factors combined play a role in their gaining of employment.
The last argument opponents make regarding the legitimacy of using criminal records in hiring decisions is somewhat weak because there is a lot of heresy and lack of statistical evidence or hard data that prove their arguments because it is mainly based off of beliefs and emotions. However, these arguments don’t necessarily need hard evidence to support their claims. They use an example of one man who had an arrest charge that later caused problems for him when he was applying for a wall street job. Examples like these occur often, but I haven’t found any data showing how frequently this actually occurs. Therefore, we don’t know just how problematic it is. Ken Springer, although credible because he is an investigator and president of Corporate Resolutions, Inc, a background screening company, is not enough to prove this argument. The same goes for Bill Kesser. He is also credible because he is the assistant director of Human Resources in Boston, but it is not enough.
Critical Analysis of Proponents Arguments
Proponents of abolishing the EEOC Guidelines, don’t use evidence against the discrimination argument made by opponents and instead use reasoning. They appeal to the use of U.S. traditions by having constitutional bodies of law to cite whether or not they are legally responsible for discrimination. They refer to the Civil Rights Act that plainly states who are the protected populations against discrimination, and since felons are not included, they can’t be legally responsible for refusing to hire someone with a record. This argument is certainly logical and valid because it is written in the U.S. Constitution. I see this as an appeal to authority. Both sides of a controversy can point to a body of law to support their argument, which is exactly the problem. Laws are written to be broad and can be very subjective in the eye of the interpreter. Bodies of law can often be tweaked to support any claim someone wants backed-up. This is certainly true regarding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Whether they have a moral obligation to give ex-felons second chances is a different story. They do acknowledge incarceration rates are highest among minorities but claim that is because they commit more crimes. Lastly, the Multi-city Study of Urban Inequality study that tries to support the claim that if employers who performed background checks on African Americans are more likely to hire them, was published in the University of Chicago’s Journal of Law and Economics in 2006. It was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. However, this may seem credible, I wasn’t able to further investigate their methods due to the paid accounts these results were published on.
Opponents next argument against recidivism seems to have logic. A lot of the data in this argument came from the same source. Hans A. von Spakovsky, is a writer for the Heritage Foundation, which is a conservative think-tank. He wrote many articles for them, of which are biased and has limited amounts of hard evidence proving their points. One piece of evidence he uses is a story about a biology professor killing and injuring six people because she was not screened properly. He blames the EEOC for this incident, saying even if a criminal background screening showed her propensity for violence, it still wouldn’t be enough for the University to refuse to hire her. This is a weak argument and is a hasty generalization. This occurs when a conclusion is drawn from a relatively small sample and generalized to the rest of the population (St. Edward’s University, 2013) . In other words, by using this example of harm coming from not screening an applicant for a criminal record, does not mean this will happen every time or all the time. As previously mentioned, this topic should be further researched. Although these stories are often compelling to read, they are anecdotal pieces of evidence making the argument significantly weaker.
Regarding the rest of the argument on recidivism and the third argument debating whether or not viewing criminal records is a legitimate means to conduct a hiring decision. The proponents have strong claims and strong belief systems that are logically valid. However, yet again, all they are are strong beliefs. The third argument also is a hasty generalization when they used a story about a stolen motel key contributing to the death and lawsuit of a motel in Indiana to prove their point that hiring an ex-felon causes too much liability for companies. The same biased article, written by von Spakovsky was also used, further contributing to a weak argument. They do make excellent points about them being the only one who knows who is the best fit for a position at their company, and protecting their company from harm. But we need to make sure that the screening and hiring processes companies are used with integrity and are legitimate. Unfortunately, based off of evidence presented which supports the opponents have stronger arguments, but proponents do have strong claims.
Moral Analysis of Opponent and Proponents’ Arguments
Opponents primary obligations is towards ex-felons seeking jobs. They believe by helping ex-felons, it could affect the population overall thereby having a profound effect on themselves as individuals, their children, families, and communities. But their primary objective is to help ex-felons get back on their feet in order to decrease recidivism rates. Opponents believe the nature of the obligation should be to give others a second chance and this should come from the government. It is their job to develop a system that helps the underrepresented populations get back on their feet and have a fair chance at finding a job. Academics also have an obligation to continue their research and to publicize the hardships felons face upon reentry.
On the other hand, proponents primary obligations is towards their employees and to their customers. The nature of their obligation is to help ensure the safety of a space they can control. They believe they have a duty to protect their business, family, and customers from harm. Many employers don’t believe it is their obligation to right the wrongs of society. It is only their obligation or duty to make the best and most well-informed decisions they can make regarding what they are a part of. Oftentimes their obligations will conflict when they feel like they have both a duty to give someone a chance at being a good worker versus protecting their work environment.
The opponents like prisoner’s rights groups and the EEOC’s main focus seem to be around creating equal opportunities for all, eliminating structural and institutional discrimination, in addition to concerning themselves with civil rights, and having a huge emphasis on second chances. Their main value is equality but they also value compassion, tolerance, health, and open-mindedness. Opponents are working towards giving felons a fair chance at getting a job in a fair way via ban the box legislation. By not having to check the box (regarding whether you have ever been convicted of a felony) ex-felons who are trying to find a job, have a fair chance at making it through all the way to the interview process instead of being immediately turned away before their application is viewed. They are also concerned with improving the lives of felons, their families, their communities, and society at large. They are asking tolerance of employers who are close-minded about hiring an ex-felon to not only promote society’s health but also to provide equal opportunities to the basic essentials of survival in the civilian world.
Proponents of abolishing the EEOC Guidelines such as business owners and background screening companies values are primarily concerned around freedom of business practices and decisions, privacy, self-reliance/independence, and safety. Many private business owners don’t want the federal government telling them who they can and can not hire, or who is best for the position they have open. Business owners value making their own private decisions regarding what they think is best for them, their employees, and their growth as a business. They are always going to be concerned with the safety of their business and their employees because any harm could be a serious deficit. As a result, I would say the core value of opponents would be security; security regarding the safety of their employees and the security of knowing their business is a healthy environment.
Opponents seek to obtain felons given equal opportunities and more opportunities regarding finding a job. Ban the box legislation envisions employers actually interviewing felons for a job which they are qualified for and have a chance of getting the job. They also hope to see felons go further in the interview process and have the chance to discuss and defend their record.
Opponents want to avoid no one giving felons a second chance, or no one hiring a felon because that can be very bad for felons, their families, their communities, and society at large. Opponents also don’t want to see felons getting immediate refusals on job applications because they checked the box.
Proponents seek to obtain the capability of being able the make independent decisions on what they think is best for their companies. They also seek to obtain a healthy environment for their staff, for themselves, and their business that is free of harm. Proponents want to avoid being told they should hire ex-felons when they don’t know if they are telling the truth or if they can trust them. The certainly want to avoid being pressured into hiring someone they don’t want to hire and not feeling confident that they are the best person for the job. They also want to avoid lawsuits from felons and the EEOC claiming racial discrimination or lawsuits regarding negligent hiring practices. And the number one thing they want to avoid is something bad happening to themselves, their employees, or their business after they took the risk of hiring a felon.
Opponents main normative principle is the respect of persons. This basically means humans have a duty to honor others, their rights, and their responsibilities. Perhaps felons deserve the right to a fair hiring process for a job. Proponents main normative principle is the principle of least harm. This states that if we must choose between two evils, we should choose the one that does the least amount of harm. Refusing to hire a felon could cause harm to either the felon or the staff already employed. But if they have the decision of harming less people, they would have to pick the felon.
The main normative ethical theory that applies to opponents is the social contract theory (St. Edward’s University, 2013). This principles emphasizes an individual’s moral obligations rooted in contracts or agreements individuals make with each other when they form societies. Following an individual’s best interests are the laws chosen to guide and insure social order. Rational human beings will accept these rules on the condition that other follow them as well. This is applicable and representative of citizens who break the law. But really applies to the proponents perspective is the principle of equality and the principle of paternalism. The principle of equality states that every person is entitled to treatment as an equal, “to be shown the respect and concern of which any moral being is worthy” (St. Edward’s University, 2013). This is what opponents believe; that once they have served their time and debt to society, they then deserve to be treated with respect and equal opportunities. The principle of paternalism states that a legitimate goal of public authority is minimizing needless human suffering (St. Edward’s University, 2013). Opponents believe it is necessary and the responsibility of the federal government, specifically the EEOC, to minimize the suffering of ex-felons, their families, their communities, and society by helping them find more employment opportunities.
Proponents main normative ethical theory is Utilitarianism. This theory is based on the principle that the standard of moral judgement is based from the greatest amount of good or the most happiness that occurs from it. The central idea is that the wrong or rightness of any actions is determined by the consequences of the action. Proponents believe that by denied an ex-felon employment they are causing the greatest amount of good for the most amount of people because they are putting themselves and all of their employee’s needs above those of the single felon applying for a position. This is in direct accordance with the principle rule of utilitarianism. This states a rule is morally right if it produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people long term, ensuring each individual act produces the greatest good (St. Edward’s University, 2013). In order to ensure the security of their work environments and companies, business owners would strive to ensure the greatest amount of good happens forever.
Final Position and Solution
Something that brought me clarity was conducting field research on my topic. I conducted six interviews: two with previously incarcerated felons, two with representatives of Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, and two interviews from the perspective of background screening and hiring. The felons I interviewed had the combined crimes of aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, murder, and engaging and organizing criminal activity. The major takeaway points from these interviews included just how important having a strong family system was to go back to upon release, the importance of finding work within the prison and keeping their skills sharp so they can quickly apply them once in the civilian world, and perhaps the most important thing is the felon being fully ready to change their life. Lt. Josh Wiener, who is Operations Manager and Sales at Top Gun Security and Investigations of Austin, TX as well as David Leining Sr., founder and owner of Santa Fe Archery in Santa Fe, TX, discussed the various types of concerns they would have when considering hiring a previous felon. They would be concerned of their trustworthiness, bringing the past with them or what they’ve learned in prison. They might also be concerned about their demeanor especially around families and children, what types of crimes were committed and how long ago. Lt. Wiener recognizes there are some misconceptions about felons such as “once a criminal, always a criminal” and a self-fulfilling prophecy that felons sometimes fall into. Both Leining and Weiner did not support the EEOC Guidelines, but were open to the idea of Ban the Box. Leining understands that it is unlikely to find a uniform solution to this problem as many people commit different types of crimes. Lastly, my interviewers from Goodwill, Zubin Segal, the Communications Manager at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas and Roberto Perez Jr., Master Mentor at Goodwill Peer Support in Central Texas, emphasized the importance of spreading the word about the services Goodwill has to offer felons including supplying them with wrap around services. They emphasize a communal environment and the willingness to give people a second chance to turn their life around because they most likely will. They also believe once employers give ex-felons a chance at a job, they will have some of the most dedicating and hard working employees because felons have more to lose than the average person, especially since their job search is significantly harder than average person’s.
As for my civic engagement I attended a mandatory offender reentry course at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Federal Probation Office. I sat in on a class surrounded by those recently released from federal prison. The purpose of the class was to discuss the various services Goodwill and other local organizations had to offer the felons aiding in their reentry. Many of the probationers came prepared for class, engaged in the class by asking questions, participating in simulations, joked with the other classmates, were friendly to one another, and seemed driven to prevent this lifestyle from affecting their families, especially their children. An overwhelming majority, (I would say about 90%) in the class had children and were aware that their life choices as well as getting back into trouble can further contribute to their children following in their footsteps.
For entire length of this research paper, I haven’t changed my position. Although I am very respectful and fully understanding of where employers are coming from regarding the use of criminal records during the hiring process, I believe the EEOC Guidelines are a step in the right direction and I don’t think they should be abolished by Congress. If they are abolished, the struggle of felons finding a job would be increasingly problematic than it already is. There is overwhelming amounts of evidence proving that high incarceration rates have devastating effects in every aspect of life within the United States ranging from the average taxpayer to a direct family member to the individual themselves being incarcerated. There is also irrefutable evidence that structural discrimination is taking place within the criminal justice and the court system. It is extremely important that politicians and the American public figure out some way to aid in felon employment upon release or do more for them while they are in the system. All of this combined has convinced me that some type of policy needs to be put in place to help felons receive more employment opportunities. I think at this point, the best solution and is a comprise for all parties, would be to pass Ban the Box legislation nationwide.
Ban the Box legislation can get employers and business owners more comfortable with the idea of reviewing an applicant who had something on their criminal record. This could lead to them seeing the applicant as a worker and judge them based off of their skill sets in relationship to the job instead of their past mistakes. This could give ex-felons a fighting chance to fairly compete for a job based off of who is the best fit for the position. On the other hand, employers still have a chance to fully address their concerns with the applicant and go over their inquiries about their record. It is important for the felon to also discuss their record with their potential employer so trust and rapport can be established as the basis for a healthy working relationship if they were to be hired on. I think if we were to give employers the opportunity to view criminal records or ask questions regarding their records, there won’t be much opposition against the bill. Ban the box seems like a feasible plan. The main issue with passing it would be creating something uniform for the entire nation. That can be problematic as various jurisdictions already have ban the box that is unique to their city’s needs and the community’s wants. It wouldn’t necessarily cost too much money to enforce. The money would go into creating and enforcing the guidelines and creating information packets that can be distributed. Unfortunately, I think legislation such as this will only become more popular in years to come. Americans have yet to really care about prisoner’s rights. Their stigmas and preconceived notions of what a criminal is really like (thanks to mass media) will further impede a wave of prisoner’s rights movements.
However, I definitely don’t think everything will be solved by passing Ban the Box nationwide. I believe it is also incredibly important for felons to have more resources given to them to aid them in reentry, like what Goodwill of Central Texas is doing. They have workshops, resume builders, reentry classes, academic conferences, certificate training, GED classes, partnerships with counseling services, case workers, and job fairs. I believe many more felons in the nation would be successful if they had access to a program as successful as the Goodwill of Central Texas. One of my felon interviewees brought up a great point. He thinks there should be some type of recommendation system or contract work inside the prison that can help the felons slowly transition into civilian life. The most important next step is to spread awareness about this issue. Felons and their struggles are often ignored by society because they group them all together and assume they are all bad people. I believe a mistake doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. Besides there are many people in jail that did misdemeanor crimes, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, did something accidental, or was wrongfully accused. There is all too often the adolescent male who got mixed up with the wrong people and it has cost him ten years or more in prison.
My Personal Moral Analysis
What I value the most regarding this topic is second chances, growth, and responsibility. I do believe it is every human’s right to get a second chance at something; to right their wrong. Humans are not perfect beings, and we have hundreds of thousands of years of some pretty awful mistakes. But if no one was given a second chance, where would we be in life? Second chances don’t have any meaning unless there is a growth period in-between. Humans most often make their mistakes because they lack growth and development. Although we grow in many different ways grow is a vital part of life as it is ensures our survival as a race. The last value that is deeply connected to second chances and growth is responsibility. I don’t think people deserve second chances at things unless they have grown and taken responsibility. It is extremely important for everyone in society to take responsibility over our actions that have directly or indirected contributed to this problem. Whether that is to take responsibility for our mistakes, take responsibility to care for our families, our children, our communities, and our businesses, and a responsibility to be honest with yourself about what you can do to help solve one of our nation’s largest social issues.
I believe my obligations are to the education and growth of my peers. The nature of my obligations are understanding and informative in nature. I believe it is my duty to spread knowledge to society about what I have learned. I believe I have a duty to try to make this world a little more equal and fair.
The consequences I intend to come out of this paper and from the solution is to inspire those around me to take action. I want felons to want to prove that they are ready to change their life and be fully committed to their job. I never want a felon to recidivate back into crime, ruining his chances with his employer and further damaging his social relationships. I also don’t want one felon’s fallout to be representative of the rest. I hope employers don’t think every felon is like the last one because they aren’t.
The main philosophy theory that guided me in this issue is the John Rawl’s Principle of Distributive Justice. This states that basic goods should be distributed so that society’s least advantaged members benefit as much as possible (St. Edward’s University, 2013). There is no debate that felons are the least advantaged members of society when it comes to job searching. They’ve often been incarcerated for decades, loosing all of the job skills and social skills they had and many walk out of prison with absolutely nothing. In comparison, they have to compete for jobs against people who have a clean record, business attire/work uniform, contact information, a phone, a car, a family, education, job experiences, and recommendations. As a result, the criminal justice system and the federal government has a responsibility to figure out a way to help the millions of people that tango with the criminal justice system every year. As Eddie Winslow, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Officer puts it, “At the end of the day, I just try to treat them like people”.
Appendix A: Interview Questions
Tony and Steven Gordon’s
2. Type of crime committed
3. Age and location at which the crime was committed
4. What happened?
5. What were your charge(s)?
6. How long did you spend in prison?
7. What was prison like?
8. What are some significant barriers you faced upon release?**
9. What was the hardest challenge you faced upon release?**
10. Are there any programs in prison that helped you re-enter society?**
11. And if not, what type of program do you think that would've been in place would have helped you? and in what way? How would it have helped, etc.?*
12. Do you think all ex-felons deserve second-chances?**
13. Do you think businesses should be capable of turning away ex-felons if they've had a criminal record?*
14. What do you think predicts recidivism in ex-felons? (or in other words..... what are some reasons for why ex-felons get back into crime after they've been released from prison?) **
15. What do you think can be done about high incarceration rates and recidivism? *
16. In your opinion, what are some possible solutions to the criminal justice system?
Expert Interview with Zubin Segal
Communications Manager at Goodwill of Central Texas
1. What types of programs that Goodwill offers to help ex-felons?
2. What are some reasons that Goodwill hires ex-felons?
3. In what ways has Goodwill benefited from hiring ex-felons?
4. Do you support the EEOC Guidelines regarding hiring decisions of those with criminal records? and do you also support Ban the Box legislation that was passed here in Austin?
5. Do you have any concerns when hiring ex-felons?
6. Do you think felons face any particular challenges in the workplace?
7. How would other businesses and business owners benefit from hiring felons?
8. What do you think is a solution to helping those recently released become successful in finding employment?
Expert Interview with Roberto Perez Jr.
Master Mentor of Goodwill Peer Support
1. Briefly state your role with Goodwill. What exactly do you do?
2. Do you believe Goodwill’s programs are successful in helping ex-felons find employment? Which programs are the most successful and how/why?
3. Since you are a mentor in Goodwill Peer Support, you are often working with felons on a daily basis. What seems to be the main challenges they face upon reentry?
4. What are some misconceptions business owners, hiring professionals, or people in general have regarding felon reentry and employment?
5. In what ways would businesses and business owners benefit from hiring ex-felons?
6. Do you agree with the EEOC Guidelines released in April 2012 and the Ban the Box legislation passed in Austin? Do you believe this is a successful solution? If not, what is a successful solution to helping those recently released find employment (and housing)?
7. What do you think are some reasons why released felons recidivate back to crime?
8. If you could educate the public to help them understand felon reentry, what are some main points you would cover and why?
Expert Interview with Lt. Josh Wiener
Operations Manager/Sales at Top Gun Security and Investigation Services of Austin, TX
1. Explain the process of businesses hiring Top Gun to perform criminal background searches.
a. What is that process like?
b. What are some common things you find?
2. How do you feel about businesses hiring ex-felons?
3. What are some main concerns businesses have regarding the hiring of felons?
4. What are some types of risk assessments or assessments in general employers conduct when considering someone with a criminal record?
5. Do you support the EEOC Guidelines that were released in April 2012? Do you also support the Ban the Box legislation that passed in Austin?
6. What are your thoughts on the argument that the EEOC Guidelines actually make it harder for a person of color to get hired if they aren’t screened for employment?
7. What do you think is a solution to helping ex-felons become successful in finding employment?
Expert Interview with David Leining Sr.
Founder and Business Owner of Santa Fe Archery
1. Briefly explain what your business is and your role in that business.
2. What is the process like of hiring individuals at your place of business?
3. What specific factors do you consider during the hiring process? Are there certain types of risk assessments you perform when considering hiring someone? Are those factors different when considering someone with a criminal record?
4. What are some misconceptions people normally have regarding the hiring process?
5. Have you ever had anyone apply to your place of business that had a criminal record? if so, what did you do?
6. Do you support the EEOC Guidelines that were released in April of 2012? Do you support the idea of Ban the Box legislation that is present here in Austin? Why or why not?
7. What do you think is an appropriate tentative solution that can help ex-felons become more successful in finding employment?
Appendix B: Proof of Civic Engagement
Attended a mandatory offender reentry course from 10-12pm on Friday, July 26, 2013 at
Texas Department Criminal Justice Federal Probation Office
1616 Headway Circle, Austin, TX 78754
Was with Goodwill’s Master Mentor Roberto Perez, Jr. OWDS
Goodwill Peer Support
2001 Rosewood Bldg. B 2001
Austin, Texas 78702
Purpose of this offender reentry class: mandatory for all of those on federal parole, unless they have found employment. Class topics include helping them with reentry, specifically having various groups in Austin come to speak to them about the services they provide to help them find employment. The organizations that spoke today included: Project Fresh Start, Goodwill, and Travis County Criminal Justice Planning.
Project Fresh Start provides counseling for the newly released regarding substance abuse. They expressed that PFS provided a safe environment to release any stress related to: the court, finding a job, partner stress (“baby-mama-drama”), finding a car, and finding housing, etc.
Offenders work with a case worker to help ex-felons one-on-one find a job. Items that go in their portfolio with their case worker include: resume, any/all certificates, and a letter of explanation. A letter of explanation is given to the employer that discusses what they did to get into prison, what they did while they were in prison, where they want to work, and their goals for employment.
Case workers such as Roberto Perez from Goodwill and Sandra Treviño from TCCJP, often go to worksites where they have sent felons for employment and monitor the environment. They want to make sure employers aren’t taking advantage of the felons by making them do things that aren’t in their job description. They also check in with both the employer and the employee to see how things are going and to make sure both the employer’s and the employee’s needs are met.
Oftentimes employers misinterpret the criminal background screening [because of police jargon]. An employer can look at a criminal background check that was sent to them by a screening company and see on someone’s record that they were convicted of “released bodily fluids on a federal/state police officer”. An employer would automatically think the worst, when really the felon only spit on them. It’s important that employers don’t misinterpret records and the case worker (as well as the letter of explanation) can help clear that up.
Some businesses do support the hiring of ex-felons, but that information is kept confidential with the case-workers because they don’t want people to not want to be involved or hired in their business. Oftentimes these companies also are given financial incentives for hiring ex-felons. Most often these occurs as tax credits up to $2,400 and they also get incentives such as more monitoring of the case worker over the felon.
At the end of the day, “I just try to treat them like people”. -- parole officer
I ask them, do you know someone with a criminal record? Everyone usually does. It easily could have been anyone else that got caught. They are accepting responsibility for their actions and are wanting to move on.
Walked in: intimidated.
Walked out: thinking these were good people. They were funny and caring. I noticed in class that they don’t want their children to follow in their footsteps, and they want to be there for their children. They don’t want them to grow up without a father. Many of them seemed happy, and ready to find employment, make money, and start a new life.
TDCJ Parole Officer
Appendix C: Slides from Oral Presentations
Presentation 1: Social Problem Handout
Presentation 2: A Critical and Moral Analysis on an Argument
Presentation 3: Final Presentation
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Carco Group, Inc. 5000 Corporate Court, Suite 203, Holtsville, NY 11742; 1-800-969-2272; www.carcogroup.com. (Con Stakeholder).
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