Ex-offenders face an uphill battle after release from incarceration. However, their best hope of avoiding recidivism is to obtain steady employment that pays a living wage and can serve as a foundation for putting their lives back together. However, many employers are hesitant to hire ex-offenders. An ailing economy makes matters even more challenging. Nonetheless, there are resources available for ex-offenders who are willing to take advantage of them. Ex-offenders who are willing to put forth the effort don't have to resign themselves to a revolving door of periodic imprisonment.
Realities of the Job Market for Ex-Offenders
Especially in an ailing economy, ex-offenders face a daunting challenge in seeking employment. Those ex-offenders who have marketable skills that they obtained either before or during incarceration stand a much better chance of finding a job. However, it may be necessary to accept pay cuts and lower-level jobs in order to get a foot in the door. The reality is that the ex-offender must reassure the employer that making a job offer was a wise decision. Some industries and career paths are closed forever for ex-offenders, depending on the nature of the infraction and the job involved. The financial sector is a significant example.
The military is a significant exception to the general bleak employment prospects for ex-offenders (see Resources). For ex-offenders with less serious criminal records, obtaining what is known as a "moral waiver" can make it possible to make a fresh start in a military career. For those ex-offenders with the right temperament and discipline, the military can present a significant opportunity.
Skills Assessment and Available Resources
Along with determination to maintain a job search in adverse conditions, ex-offenders should be especially diligent in assessing the skill sets they bring to the job market. Especially with a long period of incarceration, it is possible or even likely that their skills have become outdated, although this can be countered by work and training received while imprisoned.
Many programs on a national, state or local level are geared especially to assisting ex-offenders. Programs like Goodwill (see Resources) or the Safer Foundation (see Resources) often offer wraparound services such as housing assistance, medical care and transportation to address obstacles that might prevent the ex-offender from obtaining and holding a job.
These programs frequently act as advocates for ex-offenders in approaching potential employers. They often have databases of employers who hire ex-offenders and actively work to make placements within those companies. Working with such agencies provides ex-offenders with the advantage of knowing that their criminal histories will not stand in the way of employment.
Day-labour offices literally employ people off the street for short-term manual labour. Ex-offenders frequently find work through such offices, and in some instances day labour leads to full-time employment. Cities in some states such as Illinois and California sponsor formal day-labour sites where employers and employers can hire labourers.
Bonding for Ex-Offenders
Employers who are willing to take a chance on skilled ex-offenders can obtain bonding for the potential employee as a guard against theft-related infractions in the workplace. These bonds can open job opportunities that would otherwise be closed to ex-offenders. The bonds are usually available in the amount of £3,250 for full-time work (30 hours or more) and have a 6-month duration, although they are sometimes renewable. There is no charge to the employer or to the ex-offender.
For ex-offenders in the federal prison system, bonds are issued through the UNICOR program (see Resources). For other ex-offenders, the federal bonding program is usually administered by the state agency that handles workforce matters.
Showing Initiative in the Job Search
Computer searches represent another means for ex-offenders to uncover support groups, financial and other assistance and information on available jobs. State unemployment offices and public libraries have computers with high-speed Internet connections available to use at no charge. Social service agencies also frequently have computer facilities available for clients and sometimes for walk-ins.
Additionally, public libraries and state unemployment offices especially usually have abundant job search resources such as books and periodicals. There is frequently a telephone available for local calls to potential employers as well. Job listings and career counselling may also be available.
Many people find jobs through volunteering, and this option is also open to ex-offenders, with some caveats. Some agencies will be unwilling or unable to allow ex-offenders to volunteer. If the ex-offender attends religious services, the place of worship may represent an opportunity for volunteer work. The volunteer work need not be religious in nature--clerical work, general labour and other work are frequently needed, and capable volunteers are appreciated.
Approaching Potential Employers
First and foremost, ex-offenders must be completely honest in approaching employers. If an employment application specifically asks for criminal history, the ex-offender must supply it. Failure to do so will automatically eliminate the ex-offender from consideration for a job, even in those instances where honest disclosure would not have been a bar to employment. If an ex-offender does successfully conceal a criminal history and is hired, he will be subject to immediate termination if the criminal history is discovered in the future.
In special circumstances, ex-offenders can obtain an expungement, which erases their criminal records from the system. Expungement is not available in all jurisdictions, and the process for obtaining expungement varies from state to state. Expungement can be lengthy and involve clearing a number of hurdles, but once obtained, it allows ex-offenders to omit mentioning their criminal records on employment applications in many, but not all instances.
Ex-offenders should always read employment applications thoroughly. Some applications only ask criminal histories within the last 5 or 10 years. In those instances, it is legal to omit any criminal history which occurred before that period. In other instances, applications allow applicants to omit less serious crimes, such as misdemeanours, or only require applicants to include criminal history directly related to the job.