By Lauren Bell, Fair Chance Program Manager, Checkr
One in three people living in the United States has a criminal record.
Whether a low-level or a serious charge, a criminal record becomes a literal ball and chain for people, slowing many from achieving life stability and upward mobility. Even when a person has successfully met all obligations of the courts, furthered their education, completed a technical training program, and volunteered time in their community, their criminal record is the primary consideration for employment, housing, loans and so often, occupational/professional licenses.
There is something really egregious about a society that demands employment and housing stability and prosocial networks of people who exit jails and prisons, yet which concurrently perpetuates policies and practices that hinder or prevent people from meeting those expectations.
This institutional hypocrisy keeps people who aspire to professional success in a paper prison. The injustice is clear. We can and must do better.
I work at Checkr. We are a background check, tech company that is grounded by a fair chance mission. Early on, we recognized the impact that criminal records have on professional ambitions, and we took the career hopes and dreams of job seekers seriously. Our technology is rooted in trust and safety, and is strengthened through integrated fairness products and services. We create opportunities for customers to get wide and diverse talent funnels, and for candidates to get a fair shot at employment.
The roughly 77 million people with a criminal record in the United States are not a monolith. The reasonable public safety need to keep people, families, and communities safe can not undercut the equally important need to create viable pathways to success for the nearly quarter of million people who return home annually from jails and prisons.
Employment is a public safety and community development strategy. A multitude of sources, such as the recent series by the Brookings Institution called “A Better Path Forward,” illustrate how employment reduces reincarceration. In a December 2020 post by the Society for Human Resources Management(SHRM), Kathy Guchiek wrote that “more than 80 percent of hiring managers in a nationally representative poll indicated workers with a criminal history are a high-quality hire, equal to or even more effective than those without a criminal history.”
Still other data shows that many people who are formerly incarcerated demonstrate more company loyalty, are more meaningfully engaged in their work, and have lower rates of attrition than peers in the company.
There are also economic and labor needs. The United States loses out on billions of dollars each year because willing people are prevented from working. We shouldn’t be denying people jobs as businesses across the country are facing labor shortages. We are at a time when the common act of hiring is an important strategy for advancing social justice, racial equity, criminal justice reform, and business and economic goals.
Fair chance hiring is a path towards those goals. Fair chance practices were crystallized through proximate, organic, and tenacious efforts of leaders who were personally impacted by incarceration and allies in the movement. The nonprofit and public sectors, the champions of human dignity and civil rights, mobilized campaigns over the last fifteen or so years that raised awareness on the disabling collateral consequences of incarceration. Their passion influenced federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance on how criminal records should be used and resulted in a series of laws at federal, state, and local levels, often referred to as Ban The Box or Fair Chance laws that provide employment protections for people who are previously incarcerated. Through their efforts, 34 states and over 150 cities nationwide have passed some form of Ban the Box or Fair Chance legislation.
While fair chance practices vary by jurisdictions across the country, the collective bottom line, with few exceptions, requires that businesses look first to the skills and potential of all applicants, not at a past criminal record. These legal decisions established a range of policies and practices for how criminal records information should be considered throughout the hiring process and include guidance like prohibiting a company from running a background check until after a conditional offer of employment is made.
Fair chance practices such as these can achieve a balance of risk management while also ensuring that people who made a past mistake, who were fully accountable for past decisions and who have the drive and talent to work, aren’t denied employment. The National Employment Law Office (NELP) provides more detailed information on fair chance history and practices.
The efforts of the nonprofit and public sector in this area were herculean. They laid a critical foundation. However, to scale reform and opportunities, to reverse the impacts of mass incarceration, eliminate the insidiousness of systemic racism, advance racial equity and build greater social capital, the business sector must shoulder more fair chance responsibility. And this can be successfully done through the routine act of hiring.
In 2020, Checkr and our customers, through strategic consideration of background check, adjudication filters, unblocked employment opportunities for over 1.5 million candidates who might have been otherwise overlooked, and we are doubling down on that success in 2021. We are also a proud fair chance employer - our fair chance goal this year is 5.5%. Our diverse teams include dynamic, loyal and respected colleagues who were previously incarcerated. They are proudly engaged in their work and have higher rates of retention than their peers. Our business culture is kinetic, innovative and caring. Our company continues to grow.
Checkr’s mission-driven model is demonstrating how companies, people, and communities can win - through the simple but important act of fair chance hiring. We couldn’t do our fair chance hiring work without the support of mission partners like Defy Ventures, The Center for Employment Opportunities, Code Tenderloin, and The CROP Organization. We are especially excited about our growing partnership with Social Imprints, where we can make a fair chance impact through procurement and other efforts.
And, to our friends and leaders in the business community, we send you a call to fair chance action! Join us in this mission driven work. You can get started with our Fair Chance Playbook, “The Diversity Group You’re Overlooking: How to be a Fair Chance Employer.”
To learn more about Checkr, please visit Checkr.com.
Lauren Bell, Fair Chance Program Manager, Checkr