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Getting a Job after a Felony

Recently released statistics from the Pew Center for the States revealed that more than 1% of adult Americans are in prison, a statistic that is reflected in the growing problem of prison crowding in the U.S. Unfortunately, many offenders are finding that their sentences aren’t really over when they’re released from jail.

Tucson Weekly recently reported on the problem of finding employment for ex-felons. Specifically, those with felony convictions face obstacles when applying for jobs that require a state-issued license – and such jobs include dentistry, nursing, truck driving, accounting and more!

Critics of Arizona’s hiring policy (which is similar to others around the country) have reportedly identified two major sources of trouble for ex-felons: first, the licensing requirements are unfair in that they effectively judge applicants based on their morality.

Sources indicate that, though many felons serve the full sentence required by the court, they continue to face consequences when attempting to pursue certain careers.

The second part of the problem, evidently, is a lack of awareness. Reports suggest that even professors and advisors at community colleges where many ex-felons pursue higher education are unaware of the licensing restrictions that could prevent students from finding employment. This, it seems, can translate to wasted time and tuition dollars for students attempting to prepare for positions for which they don’t qualify.

Ironically, many occupations that exclude ex-felons (including nursing and truck driving) are facing historic shortages, but cannot hire many willing and qualified convicts.

And, despite the efforts of certain activists who hope to address the morality requirements and modify felony restrictions for state licensing, many people advocate imposing new restrictions. In the world of instantaneous Internet searches, Americans have grown accustomed to learning more information than ever in less time than ever.

The Arizona Republic ran a story that illuminated Americans’ growing awareness and support of criminal background checks. Apparently, a company called CrimShield now provides background checking services to contract employers like plumbers, construction workers and pest control workers.

Once CrimShield has verified that an employee has no criminal history, it evidently issues an ID card that lets homeowners know the worker entering their home has never been convicted of a crime.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that overly-stringent restrictions on employment options for ex-offenders can lead to a cycle of recidivism, or repeat offending. The president of Arizona’s Community Reintegration Coalition recently blogged about tips for ex-offenders looking for work at job fairs. Here’s a summary:

  • Dress for an interview, or one step up from how you’d dress on an average day of work.
  • Arrive armed with copies of your resume and cover letter. Fill out all applications thoroughly.
  • Invest time in conversations with representatives. These are the people who will present you to your potential employer/hirer.
  • Ask about the company policy for hiring ex-offenders (an open-ended question is more likely to meet a positive response than a yes/no question).
  • Don’t be intimidated by background checks.
  • Don’t get upset if a company can’t hire you. Some recruiters will refer you to companies they know have more lenient hiring policies.

The problem of incarceration remains a serious one in the United States. Increasing awareness is the first step toward achieving a more balanced criminal justice system.

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