Would You Hire a Former Prisoner at Your Construction Business?

More than 600,000 incarcerated people will be released from a state or federal prison this year. Those re-entering citizens face considerable challenges adjusting to life on the outside.

But there are two predominant factors that reduce the odds of ex-cons ending up back behind bars: education while in prison and employment upon release. Stopping the cycle of reincarceration is not only good for those individuals – it’s good for the community and taxpayers as well.

Meanwhile, the construction industry is facing a massive labor shortage. Contractors will need to hire 650,000 additional workers on top of its normal pace in 2022 to meet the demand for labor, says a recent report from Associated Builders and Contractors.

Could this frequently overlooked pool of workers help fill your talent pipeline?

Skilled and reliable employees

In recent years, many prisons have revamped their educational and vocational training programs to better prepare inmates for in-demand jobs in fields such as construction. Numerous nonprofit and state partnerships have also stepped up to provide pre-apprenticeship programs to prepare inmates for entry into various building trade apprenticeship programs or direct entry into the construction workforce.  

With fewer options to choose from, individuals with criminal records will likely be more motivated to perform. Research cited in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union shows that employees with criminal records have higher retention rates than those without, saving employers on hiring costs. So, not only are these employees in for the long haul, they are willing to put in extra effort to prove their worth.

Tips for hiring formerly incarcerated persons

If you’re looking to hire, onboard or train people who have arrest or conviction records, here are some tips from the Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Guide.

  1. Apply the “Nature-Time-Nature” test to focus background checks on relevant conviction history that is “consistent with business necessity.”
  2. Individually assess those applicants with a relevant conviction history.
  3. Apply hiring policies uniformly.
  4. Consider evidence of rehabilitation and mitigating factors as you assess individual job applicants.
  5. Follow state and local background check laws, including getting the candidate’s written permission to conduct a background check.
  6. Don’t consider arrests proof of guilt. Solely using the fact of an arrest without additional information would violate federal antidiscrimination laws.
  7. Use someone disconnected from the hiring process when conducting in-house background checks. This ensures that only pertinent information is considered when making the hiring decision. Or consider using a National Association of Professional Background Screeners-accredited background check company.
  8. Engage your own legal counsel to develop a human resources policy on background screening. More than 30 states have “banned the box” preventing employers from asking about an applicant’s conviction history until after selecting him or her for an interview or conditional offer of employment.  
  9. Follow industry best practices for onboarding and retaining second-chance workers. This includes offering a well-structured orientation program, offering mentorship, providing ongoing training for all staff, keeping records confidential and having a diversity policy.

Above all, employers should follow Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance to make sure they are in compliance with the Title VII law, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), or national origin.

An emphasis on fair hiring practices

The Biden Administration is keeping an eye on fair hiring practices for formerly incarcerated people, declaring the month of April as Second Chance Month. Following the proclamation, the administration released a strategy to provide employment opportunities for former inmates, as well as policy actions aimed at improving their transition into society and the workforce.

Given the historic level of infrastructure funding available, the U.S. Department of Transportation is also taking measures to ensure opportunities are provided to this often-discriminated labor pool. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act grant programs, including the RAISE Grants, INFRA Grants, and the Port Infrastructure Development Program, will increase access to jobs for those who have served time and to historically marginalized populations.

To ensure compliance with the grant provisions, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contracting and Compliance Programs will be randomly selecting 400 federal contractors and subcontractors to undergo a full review of their hiring practices to ensure people with arrest and conviction records are not being discriminated against.

Compliance assistance resources, including a webinarConstruction Compliance FAQs, and training, are available through the OFCCP.