With President Obama’s announcement instructing federal agencies to “ban the box” on employment applications, a debate has risen over whether ex-offenders should be required to inform employers about their criminal background.
Supporters of “ban the box” argue that the application questions serve as a barrier of entry into the workforce for offenders, making it difficult for them to become a law-abiding citizen. After all, if an offender cannot provide for him or herself, he or she is more likely to resort to criminal activity.
However, “ban the box” advocates should carefully consider the damaging ramifications of imposing additional government regulations on the private sector. In cities like Chicago and Baltimore, “ban the box” ordinances are resulting in unnecessary compliance procedures and administrative costs; not to mention the potential criminal and civil litigation to which these laws open small businesses.
Thankfully, “ban the box” is not the only means to fight for offenders’ opportunities in the workforce. In addition to nondisclosure, an option allowing former convicts to petition the court to have their records sealed and legal indemnity for employers and hiring managers, Texas nonprofit programs are empowering offenders to be competitive applicants in the hiring process.
In Dallas, Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) has successfully connected convicts to companies for more than a decade. In 2004, former Wall Street professional Catherine Rohr founded the organization after she realized that many prison inmates actually possess good business management skills from the very practices that landed them behind bars.
Today, PEP trains inmates in the skills necessary for legitimate business practices and connects participants to top company executives. In 2012, PEP’s report indicated that 100 percent of the graduates found employment within 90 days of their release. The average job salary was more than $11 an hour.
A 2013 study by Baylor University revealed that donations to PEP had a 340 percent return on investment. When offenders are employed, the Lone Star State’s tax revenue increases while its prison expenditures decrease – a win-win for all parties involved.
In Central Texas, Goodwill fulfilled its primary goal of “empowering people to work” by offering approximately 3,600 employment opportunities in 2014 alone. Located in East Austin, Goodwill’s Career and Technology Academy provides technical, administrative, and nursing certification programs and educational opportunities through Austin Community College and St. Edward’s University. Offenders can receive one-on-one counseling to discuss résumé crafting, interviewing and other job skills. Last year, the organization’s economic impact led to an estimated additional $247.8 million in state tax revenue and wages.
The majority of Texas’ faith-based prison programs have also begun incorporating educational curriculum and job resources into their ministries.
Restoration Outreach of Dallas’ “aftercare” prison ministry program provides services such as job referrals, résumé writing, and transportation bus passes to its former participants.
In Richmond, InnerChange Freedom prison ministry’s employment connections have been life-changing.
After finishing his term behind bars, a former inmate named Larry was connected to InnerChange Freedom and offered an interview within one week. Thanks to the support, Larry was hired by a scrap metal business where he excelled on the job – receiving five raises and a promotion within 90 days of his hire date.
Since his promotion, Larry has been able to provide jobs for 19 other former inmates.
Nonprofit, privately-funded programs offer more than the opportunity for offenders to delay the exposure of their criminal past. They provide offenders with the holistic support, educational training, and real connections they need to succeed.
While “ban the box” simply transfers hiring hurdles from the offenders seeking employment to the companies and organizations providing the jobs, nonprofit organizations promote a spirit of enterprise and opportunity – offering offenders a true Texas-sized chance in the Lone Star workforce.
Hostetter is an intern and Glod is a policy analyst with the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.