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Can Employers Play a More Positive Role in Prisoner Reentry?

NCJ Number
Harry J. Holzer; Steven Raphael; Michael A. Stoll
Date Published
March 2002
17 pages
This document discusses the willingness of employers to hire ex-offenders based on survey data.
Of the many challenges ex-offenders face, those posed by reentry into the labor market may be among the most severe. One of the major causes of these difficulties is the aversion that most employers have toward hiring ex-offenders. The barriers ex-offenders face to employment include low levels of education, substance abuse and mental health issues, racial discrimination, and their own lack of motivation. Data from employer surveys in several large metropolitan areas, administered at various times during the 1990's, show that employers are much more reluctant to hire ex-offenders than any other group of disadvantaged workers. Their willingness to do so is affected by a broad range of job and establishment characteristics, as well as the business cycle. Employer background checks into criminal behavior remain relatively rare; thus employer decisions are often poorly informed and can lead to discrimination against less-educated young Black men more broadly. Fewer than 40 percent of all employers claim that they would definitely or probably hire ex-offenders into their most recently filled non-college job. This stands in sharp contrast to their general willingness to hire other groups of workers that are commonly stigmatized, such as welfare recipients, applicants with a GED instead of high school diploma, or applicants with spotty work histories. Employers seem to fear legal liability where ex-offenders have to deal directly with customers or handle property that belongs to others. A more comprehensive set of treatments to deal with the problems of ex-offenders and to attract employers is needed. These treatments or activities include case management services, education or training activities, prerelease supports and training, transitional work experience, job placement assistance, and post-employment supports. 18 footnotes, 33 references