The number of Americans with a criminal record has risen sharply over the past three decades. Now, more than 70 million people, or roughly one in three American adults, have a criminal record, according to The Sentencing Project. That’s more than a quarter of the U.S. population.
A criminal record of any kind—even for an old, minor, and nonviolent offense—can create lifelong obstacles for an individual when it comes to finding and securing employment.
We know that communities of color are overpoliced compared with their white counterparts, and that our criminal legal system is infused with systemic racism. Black and Hispanic Americans make up 32% of the U.S. population, yet account for 52% of those incarcerated in the U.S. Black Americans are also almost six times more likely than white Americans to be arrested, convicted, and experience lengthier prison sentences.
This means that BIPOC communities are doubly impacted: once by a racially-biased criminal legal system and again by discriminatory hiring practices toward job seekers with criminal records. This keeps millions of dependable, high-performing, eager, and qualified candidates out of work, and limits employers’ access to talented workers. Today, three-quarters of formerly incarcerated people remain unemployed a year after their release.
How fair chance hiring can help DEIB efforts
Fair chance hiring, which includes reexamining background check policies for bias and creating a pipeline for job seekers with criminal records into the workforce, is good for business, but more important, good for society. That’s why companies need to actively work to break down harmful, deeply rooted biases and barriers throughout the talent attraction process by introducing inclusive and equitable fair chance practices that allow everyone, everywhere the opportunity to succeed.
Right now, many companies are reevaluating their DEIB strategy. This work is necessary, but insufficient if leaders fail to also implement fair chance hiring goals and practices.
We must start looking at equitable and inclusive talent attraction with a more intersectional lens, and be deliberate and proactive about providing opportunities, tools, and resources to job seekers with a criminal record. By instituting fair chance hiring practices, employers are opening the door to a huge, diverse pool of candidates and bringing in workers with fresh ideas, new perspectives, and different life experiences that can benefit their business.
Despite growing evidence of longer tenure, equal or better performance, and no noticeable differences in behaviors such as misconduct, employers continue to unfairly disqualify and discriminate against job candidates with a criminal record.
Most employers consider equitable hiring practices to be important to their company’s success, and a majority are satisfied with their company’s efforts. However, according to an employer survey conducted by Indeed, only 27% of employers are actively sourcing and recruiting job seekers with criminal backgrounds. Fewer—a mere 10%—have current plans to recruit this population in the future.
These practices are at odds with DEIB commitments. If employers do not intend to update policies and practices and incorporate fair chance hiring into their talent attraction strategy, they are not fully committed to DEIB.
And we know for a fact the demand is there. Indeed searches for jobs with fair chance hiring language have jumped 106% since 2020.
From promoting more inclusive job description language to evaluating background checks policies and educational requirements, companies can mitigate bias and remove barriers that are excluding talented workers and help these workers build economic stability not only for themselves, but their families and communities.
The number of Americans with records grows daily. Implementing fair chance practices—and considering them an integral part of overall hiring and retention strategies—will help us build more diverse workforces and drive inclusive growth.
Abbey Carlton is vice president of Social Impact at Indeed and Misty Gaither is vice president and Global Head of DEIB+, Indeed