5 Things To Know About Why Former Prison Inmates Make Strong Employees And Entrepreneurs

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Written by Ann Brown
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5 Things To Know About Why Former Prison Inmates Make Strong Employees And Entrepreneurs. Photo by WoodysMedia from Pexels

Former prison inmates often struggle to land jobs with prospective employers who are hesitant to give them a shot for fear of their past or that they might not have a good work ethic. 

Up to 75 percent of former inmates are jobless a year after their release, according to the National Institute of Justice. Another survey reported that less than half of the formerly incarcerated were working five years after their release. Unemployment can lead to recidivism. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2010 that about three-fourths of prisoners were arrested for a new crime within five years. 

“It’s a titanic problem,” said Brian Hamilton, founder of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, which helps the formerly incarcerated launch businesses through mentorship, networking and online resources.

“Just having a criminal charge on your record for shoplifting is hurting someone’s chances of trying to get a job, let alone a drug charge or a violent charge,” Hamilton said.

New research shows that workers with criminal records make good employees.

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that 82 percent of managers and 67 percent of human resources professionals believe that the quality of workers with criminal records is about the same or higher than that of workers without records.

Here are five things to know about why former prison inmates make strong employees and entrepreneurs.

1. Not quitters

Former inmates who struggle to find work stay in their jobs longer, according to a new Northwestern University study. Some talked to Moneyish about starting their own businesses.

After analyzing data from almost 60,000 applicants hired in U.S. sales and customer service call centers between 2008 and 2014, researchers found former inmates stayed in their positions 19 days longer than those without a record.

“In sales and customer service positions, turnover is a major labor cost,” wrote Deborah Weiss, the corresponding author of the study. Former inmates struggle to get jobs, so they likely stick around because they either have no other options, and/or because of a sense of loyalty and gratitude. 

“While our study may not entirely dispel employers’ fears that hiring applicants with a criminal record may carry risks, our findings suggest that there are unexploited opportunities to hiring applicants with a record in a way that makes sense both on efficiency and on moral grounds,” Weiss added.

2. Self-starters

Many former inmates can be successful entrepreneurs. A 2013 study that found “smart teenagers who engage in illicit activities are more likely to become successful entrepreneurs than equally intelligent, rule-abiding teenagers” partly because of their willingness to take risks, according to Inmates To Entrepreneurs.

Take Scott Jennings, who after spending three years in prison for dealing drugs, launched his own company.

“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit,” Jennings, 44, said. “I was the kid who would stop by the pharmacy on the way to middle school to buy 10-cent candy, and sell it to you in the hall for a quarter.”

While incarcerated, he attended an Inmates to Entrepreneurs seminar held in the facility.

“I have always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I was always trying to find a new way to make a buck. However, I never had any guidance or mentoring,” he said. “ While incarcerated I was asking a lot of questions about life and what I was doing wrong, right or not at all. So basically, Hamilton showed up when I was the most pliable. Listening and asking questions for a few hours changed my approach.”

3. No more likely to get pink-slipped

The Northwestern University study found that former inmates were no more likely to be fired than other employees.

4. Staying out

A good job means a second chance for ex-offenders. It also means a higher likelihood of staying out of prison. Ex-offenders who underwent training and kept a job for 30 days had a three-year recidivism rate of 16 percent, compared with Illinois’ general recidivism rate of 48 percent, Illinois Policy organization reported, according to a Safer Foundation study.

5. Good for business when business is good

The tech industry is open to hiring ex-offenders. In 2016, tech companies including Facebook, Google and Koch Industries made public promises to consider hiring people with criminal records as part of former President Barack Obama’s Fair Chance Pledge.

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The tech sector is open to hiring more workers with criminal records when the unemployment rate is low.

“When the unemployment rate is high, you can afford to not hire anyone who has a criminal record, you can afford to not hire someone who’s been out of work for two years,” said Lawrence H. Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury secretary. “When the unemployment rate is lower, employers will adapt to people rather than asking people to adapt to them.”

Companies can get tax credits and incentives for hiring formerly incarcerated.

Hiring ex-felons can be good for an employer’s bottom line. Several tax credits are available for hiring ex-felons, such as the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit.  Some states also provide partial wage reimbursement, additional tax credits and other training funds for employers who hire ex-felons, Payscale reported.

Read more: Success Beyond Bars: Lawrence Carpenter Applies Entrepreneurship To Transform Lives Of Formerly Incarcerated