The next time you grab coffee or walk down the street, look to your left—and to your right. Chances are, you will see someone with a criminal record. In fact, one in three adults in the United States has one, about as many people who hold college degrees. In the last year alone, roughly 700,000 people finished their sentences and reentered our communities, looking for ways to contribute, improve their lives, and help others do the same.
There is no substitute for the dignity of work. At this moment, there are more than 7 million open jobs, waiting for people with the knowledge and skills to match. The American economy is doing well. With more than 260,000 jobs added in April and continued solid growth building in recent months, there is much reason for optimism. Last year’s landmark First Step Act is already improving rehabilitation and re-entry opportunities for thousands of former inmates. There are even more opportunities to help lift those who are seeking a second chance after serving their time in prison.
As a company working to help people improve their lives through products and services, Koch Industries has recognized that in order to succeed, we must help others acquire the knowledge and develop the skills to do the same. Through our partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, we’ve worked to establish the Center for Advancing Opportunity, which has established the Center for Justice Research with Texas Southern University in Houston. Its purpose: to produce innovative solutions to criminal justice reform and address challenges in America’s criminal justice system.
Koch believes it is important to consider all available workers, evaluating potential employees on their potential and not their past. We banned the box on employment applications asking about criminal history in 2015.
This effort does not stop at the doors of Koch companies, which employ about 130,000 around the globe, including nearly 67,000 in the U.S., with a presence in 60 countries. In January, Koch partnered with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on the Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, providing a toolkit to other businesses as they work to implement more inclusive hiring practices across the board. In just a few short months, groups representing more than 50% of the American workforce have taken the pledge.
A survey by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute found that while most businesses are largely willing to hire people with criminal records, only 5% of managers and 3% of HR professionals said their company actively recruits these individuals. These are missed—but not lost—opportunities. In fact, the same survey found that 74% of managers and 84% of HR professionals are willing or open to hiring individuals with criminal records.
Apart from the limitless potential these hires can help their coworkers achieve, companies cannot ignore the economic impact of providing second chances through employment—not just for the sake of giving second chances to people who want to turn around their lives, but also because it makes economic sense. The U.S. loses nearly $87 billion in gross domestic product each year by excluding people with criminal records from the job market.
We also support Safe Streets & Second Chances, an innovative program that combines real-time research with policy to develop individualized re-entry plans for people who are transitioning from prison. We owe it to ourselves to ensure everybody is prepared to succeed.
Employers want to hire the right person for the job, regardless of whether that individual has a criminal record. There are tens of thousands of unemployed men and women across the country who face the stigma associated with a criminal record every day. It is time to help them so that they can help us.
Jenny Kim is deputy general counsel and vice president of public policy at Koch Industries