Emily Paul Mug

Emily Paul

I passed this question this morning, posted on a church billboard on my way to work, and started thinking about all the metaphorical roads on which we travel through life.

We’ve heard of people taking the road less traveled or taking the high road, going down the wrong road or hitting a dead end. Lots of roads out there, it seems.

What if, metaphorically speaking, you found yourself going down the wrong road and you come to a dead end where you have to stop and turn around? Imagine then that, upon turning around, you can clearly see the road before you and you’re trying to get back on it, but there is a roadblock in front of you which let’s fellow travelers pass through, just not you.

Imagine knowing that you’re a better driver now and you know where you’re going but, because you hit that dead end, you’re simply not allowed to drive anymore – even if you need to get somewhere to take care of yourself and others.

For too many people, this metaphor explains their daily struggle to rebuild a life and provide for themselves and their families after a criminal conviction.

April is Second Chance Month, a nationwide movement to raise awareness of the endless consequences of a criminal conviction, and to provide opportunities for people who have completed their sentences to become contributing citizens of their communities.

Often referred to as the “second prison,” citizens who have past criminal convictions all too often find themselves deemed unemployable by the very society that wants them to “get their lives together and contribute.”

I am hopeful that Second Chance Month will initiate a national conversation on how citizens with past convictions are regarded but until employers and corporations take a step back and look at their hiring practices, this group will always be marginalized, and that hurts us all.

When the best person for the job is denied a position based on a past mistake, what does that mean? It means the person who is not the best candidate is given the job. Do you want the second best candidate cleaning your teeth, representing you in court, building your website or helping you file your taxes or do you want the best you can get?

Just because someone has a blemish on his or her record doesn’t mean they should not be allowed to truly get on with their lives, and I say truly because hiring someone with a conviction to clean your building when they have a degree in accounting doesn’t count. I mean really allow them to get on with their lives and get back on the right road.

Anyone who is in charge of hiring people knows that just because someone looks good on paper doesn’t mean they are fit to be employed. They could be squeaky clean on paper and be an actual train wreck of an employee. You really never know who you’re hiring until they get in there and get working (or not working) so why not give a person with a past a chance?

I don’t believe any candidate with a past conviction is asking for a favor or special treatment. Most of them just want to work, and an employer may just find themselves with a loyal, grateful and highly-qualified employee. Then everyone’s headed down the right road.

If that isn’t reason enough to simply hire the best person for the job, now employers can actually be paid to offer second chances. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit available to employers who hire and retain individuals with significant employment barriers.

Employers can claim about $9,600 per employee in tax credits each year under the WOTC program. More information on this opportunity is available at www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/work-opportunity-tax-credit or by simply Googling Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

There is also a federal bonding program sponsored by the government through the Department of Labor that offers an insurance policy protecting employers against any possible losses incurred due to hiring someone with a past conviction. These bonds are free of charge to both the applicant and the employer and can be issued for any job at any employer in any state. Simply put, there is no reason to not just hire the best person for the job.

According to prisonfellowship.org, one out of four Americans, that’s around 70 million people, have some kind of criminal conviction. They’ve paid their debt to society. They have dignity and potential. Let’s stop complaining about how people won’t work anymore and open these jobs, and their professional licensure requirements, up to those who will. Just hire the best person for the job. It’s pretty simple.

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