President Trump recently declared April “Second Chance Month” to encourage “expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life” and to emphasize “our belief in second chances for all who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.” Trump called on federal and state prisons and local jails to implement programs providing prisoners with skills and preparation — including job training — to help them succeed outside prisons. These are great intentions, but April is over and nothing has changed.
This is another example of government not understanding the nature of a problem before trying to implement programs. If you don’t know the real problem, you can’t come up with an effective solution. And the real issue for people who have been incarcerated is not just a lack of skills or training. It is that they have prison records, and employers are going to systematically discriminate against ex-offenders.
If we truly want to give former inmates a second chance, we need to urge Congress to require some criminal records to be expunged from the Internet, and to encourage ex-offenders to start their own businesses.
One of the first things every human resources department does with an applicant is type the person’s name into Google, and the first thing that pops up in the search for an ex-offender is his or her record, and usually a prominent and distinctively unattractive mug shot taken at one of the lowest points of the person’s life. Of course, that knocks them right out of the pool of applicants.
Yet, as a society we choose to ignore this fact and, instead, create beautiful-sounding government programs. We have ribbon-cutting ceremonies where governors take credit for what the state is doing for inmates. But what changes? Nothing. The data on recidivism validates that nothing has changed — more than two-thirds of people who have gone to prison are arrested for a new crime within three years.
Who is to blame? Employers? Maybe, but you have to look at this very closely. When an employer hires any employee, there is enormous risk. There’s risk related to training and risk related to the person creating problems with other employees. Maybe the employee will do the job he or she is hired for — maybe not. It is also harder to fire people because of regulations related to who can be fired, when they can be fired and the terms under which you can fire them. In this way, the government has created the problem. Not surprisingly, employers have gotten more cautious about hiring.
Business owners, especially small-business owners, already deal with so much stress and red tape. Even if they believe people deserve a second chance, it’s understandable that they’re often not inclined to take a risk hiring someone who has been incarcerated, especially if the other 19 applicants don’t have a record.
What can the government do to help out?
- Require that people’s criminal records be expunged from the Internet after a certain period of time. Until we do that, HR departments will routinely discriminate against ex-offenders.
- Help ex-offenders start businesses. The customer of a small-business owner is not going to ask the owner if he’s been in prison. They just want a good product or service. And former inmates who have their own businesses are more likely to hire former inmates. Helping inmates start and run their own businesses affords them a second chance in the workforce and in society.
Every disenfranchised group in this country has climbed the social and economic ladder in two ways — by getting better educated and/or by starting their own businesses. America was built by entrepreneurs. Help give former inmates a second chance to turn their lives around by contacting your lawmakers and urging them to make these two changes.