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Ex-offenders have a right to a job

For all the talk about second chances for those with a criminal past, people routinely run up against closed doors when they leave prison and try to find a job. They may take part in vocational training and even earn college degrees behind bars, but the stigma that comes with having a criminal record makes many businesses reluctant to bring ex-offenders on board. It becomes a struggle for people who desperately want to turn their lives around.

That’s why it’s good news that a coalition of trade groups that represents companies and businesses that employ more than half of the nation’s workers is making it a priority to hire those who have served time in jail or prison.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association are being driven in part by a tight labor market and shortage of workers.

But there are plenty of other reasons to support this part of American society.

For one, ex-offenders make for a pretty reliable workforce. The Society of Human Resources Management, in a study funded by the Charles Koch Institute, reported that 82 percent of executives found that workers with criminal records were as successful as those without. If just given a chance these workers will do a good job.

When former inmates aren’t able to find employment even after paying their debts to society, they may turn back to crime — shoplifting, selling drugs, bank robbery — just to survive. Having basic access to a job will enable the nearly 700,000 people released from prison each year to improve their lot in life. That could have a trickle down effect of stronger families and safer neighborhoods.

The state has made some important efforts to help those with criminal histories find jobs. Maryland is one of 33 states with “ban-the-box” laws that prohibit companies from asking about criminal records on job applications, making sure these workers aren’t automatically rejected before getting a chance to prove their worth. Hiring managers can ask later in the process, such as when an offer is going to be made or during an interview, which gives an applicant a chance make the argument that they have been rehabilitated or can be trusted.

There are also many companies that have made commitments to hiring ex-offenders, including Whole Foods and Delta Air Lines. In Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Medicine has hired hundreds of workers with records. In 2013, Target removed questions about criminal history from job applications.

But more can be done, as there is still reluctance from some companies to hire ex-offenders, the Society of Human Resources Management report found. About 41 percent of managers and 47 percent of human resource professionals were neither willing nor unwilling to hire individuals with criminal records. Baltimore Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella reported that one in five job seekers in the Baltimore region said in a Greater Baltimore Committee study in 2016 that their criminal record was a barrier to employment.

Companies can be incentivized to hire these workers with tax credits, a Rand Corp. report recently found. Some companies would also feel more comfortable considering hiring a qualified candidate if he or she could provide a post-conviction certificate verifying work performance history.

The “Getting Talent Back to Work” pledge being pushed by the trade groups — part of a broader movement to combat the collateral damage of mass incarceration — should also help to encourage employers. Those who have served their time should not be “re-sentenced” by employers, the pledge contends.

Construction and trucking jobs have long been available to people with criminal records; it’s time other professions offered the same opportunities. One-third of adults in the United States have a criminal record. That is too big of a pool of potential workers to leave out of the job market.

It’s good business sense to hire ex-offenders — the country’s companies will have to fill 7.8 million jobs by 2020. It’s also the right thing to do. These workers have a basic human right to a job just like anyone else.

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