After studying the positives and negatives of hiring employees with criminal records in Canada, Washington State University Vancouver professor Dr. Jerry Goodstein wants to know what employers in Southwest Washington and Portland, Oregon have to say about this subject.
With the help of Anna Lookingbill, who leads the jail reentry program at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Goodstein is compiling a list of 25 to 30 businesses for this research. He hopes to begin interviewing these employers by the middle of October.
“The more the Sheriff’s Office knows about what employers are looking for, they can build that into what they are already doing within the reentry program. They are already doing some wonderful things now to help with job readiness and getting people to the extent that they can be ready to go back out again,” Goodstein said. “There are a lot of difficult challenges with that. Their hope is that this research can be valuable to them and to employers of the community.”
Employers are apprehensive to hire people with a criminal background. Job applications often include a box to check if you have commited a crime in the past, though lawmakers in Washington voted to “Ban the Box” earlier this year, making it unlawful for employers to include a check box on their applications asking whether or not one has been arrested. Oregon implemented the same law a few years ago.
Still, a stigma remains.
“Employers are wondering when they hire somebody who has a criminal record, will that lead to some kind of damage or theft? Will it involve people who are harmed?” Goodstein said. “The other part of the stigma is, how are people in the community going to react if they find out a place they go to shop has an employee with a criminal background? Are they going to have similar concerns and what does that mean for the business?”
What Goodstein learned from his study in Canada is that some businesses are not forthcoming to the public about their decisions to hire justice-involved individuals. Managers may not even tell their fellow employees. He hopes to change that with this research.
“One of my real goals with this research is to get to this idea of evidence based practices. Move away from doing things because of fears and concerns or what somebody might have heard about, to understanding what is the real experience,” Goodstein said. “Employers have a right to feel concerned because they don’t know what this is all about. They’ve heard the stigma we have talked about. Some of this research, I hope, is going to be able to address that and really start to develop practices that can move this along.”
Through research, Goodstein has discovered there are benefits to giving people out of prison a second chance.
“People here with criminal backgrounds have a hard time getting a job. When they do get a job, they’re grateful. They’re loyal.” he said, later adding that “Individuals employed after coming out of incarceration are less likely to go back into that pattern again. Having a job is a huge enabler for someone to stay out of jail. It just gives them a real important anchor.”