Criminal Justice

New survey shows openness to second chance hiring is increasing, but gains are still needed

May 10, 2021
New survey shows openness to second chance hiring is increasing, but gains are still needed

In May of 2018, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) launched a groundbreaking survey to understand employers’ perspectives on hiring individuals with criminal records. The findings revealed companies were eager to tap this talent pool. With the results in hand, SHRM Foundation unveiled its Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, which offers resources to help employers implement second-chance hiring policies.

With unemployment skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, SHRM and CKI wanted to know if employers were less open to hiring the more than 70 million Americans who have some form of a criminal record.

New findings from an updated survey of business and H.R. leaders conducted between February and March of this year and out today show they are not. In fact, more than half (53 percent) of H.R. professionals say they would be willing to hire individuals with criminal records, up from just 37 percent in 2018. Ninety-four percent of H.R. professionals say the pandemic had not changed their willingness to make second-chance hires. Business leaders also expressed a greater willingness to hire workers with criminal records.

The survey also found:

  • Sixty-six percent of H.R. professionals say they would be willing to work with individuals who have criminal records, up from 49 percent in 2018. More than half of business leaders (56 percent) say they would be willing to work with individuals with criminal records.
  • Sixty-six percent of H.R. professionals and 41 percent of business leaders say their organization has hired individuals with a criminal record, the same percentage of H.R. professionals as in 2018, suggesting the need for a renewed effort in growing second-chance opportunities and awareness among key business and hiring decision makers.
  • Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) H.R. professionals who have hired second-chance workers say they made second-chance hires at the same rate during the pandemic as before. Half of executives say they made second-chance hires at the same rate during the pandemic as before.

Respondents from larger organizations, and from the manufacturing, construction, utilities, and retail trade sectors were most likely to say they have hired second-chance workers or to say they are open to hiring from this talent pool.

The survey indicates employers’ hiring decisions are based almost exclusively on finding the best person to fill a job. Half of business leaders say they want the best candidate regardless of criminal history, while 68 percent of H.R. professionals agree with that statement.

Second-chance workers are as successful as other employees in meeting this goal. According to the survey:

  • 85 percent of H.R. professionals and 81 percent of business leaders say workers with criminal records perform just as well or better in their jobs than other workers.
  • When asked to rate on the quality of their second-chance hires, 81 percent of H.R. professionals say those employees were of the same or better quality than other workers, up from 67 percent in 2018.
  • Eighty-eight percent of executives say individuals with criminal records were about the same or better quality hire, including 53 percent who say workers from this talent pool are better or much better.

Second-chance hiring also is not a cost burden. Eighty-one percent of H.R. professionals say it costs about the same to make a second-chance hire as it does to hire someone without a criminal record.

The new survey identifies potential barriers to second-chance hiring, highlighting that employers worry about the legal liability they undertake when hiring a person with a criminal record, for example. They also worry about the perception customers will have and government policies that make second-chance hiring more difficult. The concerns were largely the same as those identified in the 2018 survey, which can be easily overcome with proper awareness and policies.

One of the greatest challenges individuals from this talent pool experience is getting past the initial application, particularly if applicants are required to indicate their criminal history on hiring forms. In 2018, 68 percent of business leaders and 46 percent of H.R. professionals said their organization required applicants to indicate their criminal history on the initial application. Those numbers fell slightly in the latest survey, but still indicate that more than half of employers ask applicants about their criminal history. Additionally, among pre-hire screenings, 83 percent of H.R. professionals say their organization uses criminal history checks to vet job candidates, up from 73 percent in 2018.

The vast majority of H.R. professionals (70 percent) and a plurality of business leaders (43 percent) say their organization would make special considerations for second-chance hires if they thought the applicant was the right person for the job.

The report shares insight into how the criminal-justice system can prepare workers for re-entry. For instance, 58 percent of H.R. professionals and 44 percent of business leaders say a candidate with a demonstrated consistent work history would make them much more willing to hire that candidate. Additionally, both H.R. professionals and business leaders indicate they would be much more willing to make a second-chance hire if that candidate presented verifiable employment references and received training or education while incarcerated.

Read the release announcing the updated results and the full report. 

The Charles Koch Institute inspires and invests in social entrepreneurs developing solutions to America’s most pressing problems. Read more about our support for social entrepreneurs committed to criminal justice reform.