Criminal Records: Breaking Down Business Bias

How to Host an Employer Engagement Event

People returning to their communities after incarceration often struggle to find and keep a job for a variety of reasons. Chief among them: Many employers restrict access to jobs based on criminal records, citing liability and safety concerns. But in many parts of the country, there are more open jobs than there are people to fill them. As a result, a growing number of employers—both large and small—are identifying people with criminal records as an untapped part of the labor market. Since 2014, the CSG Justice Center has provided technical assistance in more than 50 jurisdictions across more than 30 states to help businesses, public agencies, and community organizations facilitate discussions about the hiring of people with criminal records. This toolkit is designed to help businesses, public agencies, and community organizations plan and execute local dialogues about hiring people who have criminal records.

Planning an Event

Planning an employer engagement event requires incorporating the perspectives of various stakeholders. These events can be initiated by members of the public, private, or nonprofit sectors, but the target audience should be employers and business organizations. This section includes a checklist for planning a local employer engagement event.


Creating an Invitation

Invitations should be sent three to four weeks in advance of an event and include an RSVP process (email, phone, or website link). The invitation should make clear that the event is aimed at employers and public officials, so it is helpful if the invitation is from or endorsed by employers and public officials as well. Additional outreach strategies, such as phone calls, personalized emails, and targeted newsletter postings can increase attendance. Including logos or a list of co-sponsors on your invitation can show that the event has broad support. This section includes sample invitations from employer engagement events around the country.

Sample Invitations:

Developing an Agenda

To encourage employers to attend the event, develop an agenda that focuses on topics related to their needs, such as strategies to identify qualified candidates. Additionally, the timing of the event should be conducive to employers’ schedules; most business leaders prefer shorter meetings early in the morning or after work hours. Successful employer engagement events begin by 8 a.m., with up to an hour for breakfast while participants register and network. Beginning the program with a welcome by a public official in your community shows participants that the employment of people with criminal records is a public priority.  Successful events also often include a panel of employers who have hired people with criminal records and can share their successes and challenges. Some events also include a panel of people who were formerly incarcerated and can share their employment successes.

This section includes sample agendas from employer engagement events around the country. While employer engagement events are often held in conference centers or business clubs, the Los Angeles event, for example, was held in a jail to give business leaders the opportunity to interact with people that are incarcerated.

Sample agendas:

Employer Panel Questions

Employers will likely have questions about how hiring people with criminal records could impact their bottom line, how to consider a criminal record in hiring decisions, and negligent hiring or liability concerns. Including employer panels will enable employers to hear from their peers about the benefits and challenges of hiring people with criminal records.

The following is a list of questions from successful employer panels:

  • What positive experiences have you had hiring people with criminal records?
  • Have you faced any challenges hiring or employing people with criminal records?
  • When is it appropriate to ask about an applicant’s criminal record?
  • Does your company obtain criminal background reports on potential employees? If so, how is this information used?
  • Are there particular kinds of criminal records that employers are concerned about?
  • How do you partner with training programs to recruit qualified applicants with criminal records?
  • What would encourage more employers to hire people with criminal records?
  • How do you think business leaders should be involved in policy reforms—such as Ban the Box or removing unnecessary barriers to licensing—to promote broader support?
Talking Points

An overview of the current state of reentry and employment and its importance to employers should be presented early in the event to prepare the audience for the rest of the speakers. The planning team can use the following talking points to prepare a public official, issue expert, business leader, or other speaker to deliver the overview.

  • More than 630,000 people are released from prisons each year and more than 11 million people cycle through local jails each year.
  • In addition to all of those people being released from incarceration each year, there are many more people living in our communities with a past criminal record. In fact, research estimates 70 million adults (or one in three) in the U.S. have a criminal record.
  • For all practical purposes, this means that companies that do not consider people with criminal records for employment are missing out on a huge amount of talent that could contribute to productivity and their bottom line. It means that a huge amount of talent in our country struggles to find employment for reasons not even related to their skills or to the job at hand.
  • When people can’t work, unemployment goes up, tax revenue goes down, families and communities suffer, and it leaves society with all sorts of social costs to absorb. The estimated reduction to the nation’s gross domestic product for not employing people with criminal records is $78 to $87 billion.
  • Research shows that a criminal record doesn’t predict future reoffending after a certain time period passes (typically about seven years). Many of the adults with criminal records have very old or minor offenses.
  • Many employers, such as Butterball, report hiring people with criminal records and have found them to be loyal, committed workers.

It is also important to include local or state facts on incarceration, recidivism, and employment, which can be found on state corrections websites, through local reentry agencies, and in the documents below. Key facts and resources, such as contact information for local reentry agencies, can be compiled in a handout for distribution at the employer engagement event.

Additional Resources
Surveying Businesses

Using surveys to learn more about the employers attending your event can help you decide what topics to discuss during the event and can also help inform post-event follow-up activities. Surveys can be completed in advance of the event by employers who RSVP, or the planning team can conduct surveys at the close of the event. It is important to ask about attendees current hiring policies, their experiences hiring people with criminal records, and specific hiring needs within their industry or sector. Often, businesses will want to remain anonymous when completing this survey.

Sample surveys:

Securing Press Coverage

A pre-event press release providing background information about why hiring people with criminal records is timely and important—and which includes quotes from public officials and business leaders—can help attract press coverage for your event. Journalists appreciate facts about the issue, such as incarceration or recidivism rates (see the Resources section). You can send press releases to local, regional, and national newspapers, as well as radio and television stations. You can also create post-event write-ups summarizing key points discussed during the event to share with speakers and attendees. Videotaping and photographing the event can provide material for social media posts, reports, and learning tools.

Some businesses may prefer to keep discussions about their hiring processes confidential. If employers express concern with having media at the event, other options include scheduling interviews between journalists and specific stakeholders—including policymakers and business leaders—immediately following the event.

This section includes an example of a pre-event press release and a post-event write up.

Sample media materials

Post-Event Action

After your employer engagement event, reconvene the planning committee to evaluate the event and plan follow-up activities, which may include:

  • Encouraging employers to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment;
  • Providing information to employers about revising human resource policies to reduce barriers for jobseekers with criminal records;
  • Developing projects that bring together employers, corrections, and workforce staff to identify career paths for people with criminal records in specific industries;
  • Considering local policy changes that would increase opportunities for people with criminal records to find and retain employment; and
  • Encouraging local workforce boards to form advisory committees on the employment of people with criminal records.
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