When it comes to the justice system, one area that is frequently overlooked by the media is ex-offenders’ lives after incarceration. After having served time—whether truly guilty or wrongfully convicted—those who have been convicted of a crime face new challenges as they begin reintegration back into their communities. Due to publicly available criminal records, getting a job is one of those challenges.
In recent legislative sessions, Utah has made substantial improvements with the expungement of criminal records. For example, in 2019, the legislature passed a bill that created an automated expungement process for lower-level offenses, and in 2021, it passed another bill that made it possible to clear one’s civil records. This year, specific modifications were approved to simplify the process for petition-based expungement seekers. These are major wins for helping people who’ve gone through the system and are ready to become productive members of their community.
Despite recent progress, there is more to be done. Utah still must work to provide opportunities for those who, for one reason or another, are unable to have their records expunged. In doing this, we can help improve the state’s recidivism rate which, as of last year, was sitting at 46 percent.
It’s reported that one in three U.S. adults have a criminal record of some kind, and in Utah that number is one in four. While this is likely to improve thanks to some of the efforts previously mentioned, as well as HB 412, there will still be significant portions of the population that have a record.
As long as somebody has a criminal record attached to their name, obtaining a job will remain significantly more difficult. This is a major contributor to high recidivism rates. Of course, there may be legitimate reasons for not clearing an individual’s name with their criminal record. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be excluded from society, especially when they have served their time and need to work to live. One approach employers can take in addressing this problem is the implementation of what is called “second chance hiring,” also known as “fair chance hiring.”
Second chance hiring refers to the practice of not simply writing off a candidate because they have a criminal history. Instead, closer consideration is taken regarding the details of somebody’s record:
- What is the nature and gravity of the criminal history?
- How much time has passed since the conviction?
- What is the nature of the job the candidate is applying for, and does their record have any relevance to the position?
In 2017, Utah passed HB 156 which prohibits government agencies from requiring job applicants to disclose prior criminal history before an initial interview or a conditional offer of employment. Other states like California have passed more heavy-handed laws that prohibit private employers from doing the same. While this raises concerns about government overreach into private businesses, we can still recognize and highlight the ends that many of the people behind these bills are attempting to reach: giving individuals with a record the opportunity to rejoin the economy and truly move on with their lives.
Rather than waiting for top-down approaches like state legislatures mandating this sort of practice into law, a natural, bottom-up effort from the community can bring about this important change much quicker and more effectively.
Organizations like Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation (DKBF) are a perfect example of this grassroots approach. They work closely with employers to help them establish a hiring process based on the philosophy of second chance hiring, which not only serves to improve the lives of those seeking a second chance but also assists businesses in truly finding the highest quality candidates to fill their positions. The foundation is an extension of Dave’s Killer Bread, a company where one-third of its team have felony convictions. They are living proof of the success and impact this approach to hiring can have.
By following the example of DKBF and changing the way in which we view members of our society who have gone through the system, Utahns can effect major changes in our criminal justice system while simultaneously helping strengthen their own communities. Furthermore, by implementing second chance hiring practices, a business can increase the size of their pool of candidates—something that plenty of Utah employers could greatly benefit from as they continue dealing with the ongoing labor shortage.