Excerpted from SHRM Blog By Christina Melton Crain,Esq.

There is no doubt that the success of a company is determined by those it employs; thereby making acquisition of the appropriate and necessary talent a key priority for any business. However, with the job market tightening, employers are experiencing more difficulty in recruiting and hiring qualified employees; requiring companies to become creative with their hiring practices.

My suggestion – Hire former offenders!

On a national scale, one in three American adults has some type of criminal record. More than 2 million Americans are in state and federal prisons. More than 95 percent of these individuals – nearly 700,000 each year – will one day be released from prison and face the challenges of reintegrating into our communities.

As an attorney who has founded/owned several businesses, I understand the reluctance a company may have in hiring such individuals – the fear of potential liability tops the list. But, according a national poll, the primary reason employers conduct applicant background checks is to reduce legal liability rather than to ensure a safe work environment (49 percent) or to assess trustworthiness (17 percent). These concerns lead employers to pass overqualified employees for less competent ones. A criminal record does not disqualify a candidate categorically; it simply limits a candidate’s ability to attain certain positions that may be the best match for his/her skillset.

Since nearly one-third of “working-age” Americans have a criminal record, dismissing those with a record means that companies are eliminating a big portion of the labor pool in their hiring processes. Employers are absolutely justified in wanting to hire trustworthy, responsible workers; however, with so many people with criminal records, it stands to reason that potentially valuable employees are being overlooked (Brennan Center for Justice).

My personal experience in working with former offenders has shown them to be highly motivated to excel in large part due to the gratefulness they feel towards the employer for giving them a chance. They are committed to working hard, driven by the need for a steady paycheck – the key to securing sustainable housing, transportation and other necessities. Felons can be brilliant and caring people; they just made a mistake. Employers should ask the person why he or she was incarcerated. If they committed a drug-related offense to feed their family, perhaps this is forgivable.

How can a business take advantage of this talent pool while limiting its risk?

One very simple but important way – Work with a reentry program that will appropriately vet potential employee applicants and will be there to assist the company with any issues that may arise with the individual post-hiring.

Unlocking DOORS®, the nonprofit organization that I founded and run, is a nationally unique reentry network platform that provides such services to any employer who agrees to offer employment to our clients. Through a one-of-a-kind process called Reentry Brokerage®, Unlocking DOORS® approaches the client and his/her needs in a holistic manner to assure best chances for a future of self-sufficiency that is crime free. The key to this process is ensuring that the client has the four key barriers to successful reintegration satisfied – employment, housing, transportation and medical/mental health. These needs are intertwined and affect each other: a client may secure a job; however, without a place to sleep, a means of transport and good health, the individual will have a very difficult time sustaining the job. Working with a reentry organization, such as Unlocking DOORS®, will help ensure that a company receives appropriate client referrals that match the company’s needs, while providing an ongoing support system for the employer.

To maximize full impact when hiring former offenders, an employer should work closely with the reentry organization as follows:

1. Provide the reentry organization with all specifics regarding the position you wish to fill – i.e., complete job description; uniform/equipment requirements; certification/training requirements.
2. Provide the reentry organization with the company’s criminal justice guidelines – i.e., crimes that are prohibited.
3. Provide the reentry organization complete salary/hourly pay/benefits information to pass along to the potential employee.
4. Conduct a “national” criminal background check on the potential employee even if the reentry organization provides one (Verification is always in style!).
5. During the interview with a potential employee, focus your time on getting to know the individual as a whole – i.e., certifications, credentials, skills sets, training, work history, future desires, and aptitudes.
6. Use “reasonable” as your standard in determining whether to hire or pass on a particular applicant (No one can live up to “perfect” – criminal background or not!).
7. Upon hiring a former offender, sign up for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and determine if your state also has a tax credit program though the National HIRE Network.
8. Determine if the employer is eligible for the Federal Bonding Program.

So, hire a former offender – you might just find an excellent employee! Done the right way, the benefits your company will reap more than outweigh any perceived risk that may exist.