In states across the country, the consequences of a conviction record continue long after release from prison. The following tools can help ensure that those with a conviction record have a fair chance at finding a living wage job.
Eliminate lifetime legislative bans to employment. Lifetime bans to employment in specific occupations only serve to keep people with records from rebuilding their lives, especially when the bans have no connection to the offense and there have not been repeated offenses. Eliminating lifetime bans would give people with records a better chance at reintegrating into society and eventually finding a good paying job.
Review and/or remove other mandatory legislative restrictions to employment. Mandatory bans, especially those that ban anyone with a felony conviction, can significantly impact the ability of people with conviction records to find stable, highpaying employment. This is especially true for bans that apply to all felonies, regardless of whether the felony has any relation to the occupation in question. Eliminating mandatory bans would, at minimum, give employers more discretion and allow those who have served their time a fair shot at making ends meet.
Ban the Box: remove inquiries into convictions for public and private employment at the state and federal level. Eliminating the conviction history checkbox on employment applications can significantly increase the chance of those with records receiving interviews and, ultimately, jobs. While Ban the Box policies do not prevent employers from using background checks to influence hiring decisions, such policies can help ensure that those with records are not discriminated against from the beginning of the employment process. Eliminating the conviction history checkbox from applications for employment with the federal government and for federal contractors would be a significant step in eliminating employment discrimination for those with conviction records.
Implement strong enforcement of Ban the Box policies. Without enforcement and a structure for processing complaints, many employers will continue to discriminate against those with records by including an inquiry into conviction records on employment applications. Consequences should be strong enough to deter employers from violating the ordinance. Such consequences can include things like cancellation of government contracts, lawsuits (if the ordinance applies to private employers), and/or significant fines.
Reform legal financial obligation (LFO) policies. Legal financial obligations, including court fees and fines as well as fees assessed during incarceration, can be a significant financial burden upon release from prison. Reforms including limiting the amount of LFOs, including automatic fees; capping interest rates applied to outstanding LFOs; and establishing clear criteria for determining ability to pay49 could help ensure that such fines and fees do not serve as an additional barrier for those with conviction records to making ends meet.
Increase the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour and eliminate the tipped minimum wage. Nearly half of all jobs in the country pay less than $15 per hour, so increasing the minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage will help workers in any job. Until other policies are amended to ensure that those with conviction records are not barred from employment in traditionally higher-paying jobs, a higher base wage would help those who find a job stay out of poverty.
Invest in businesses that pay high wages and employ those with criminal records. Federal, state, and local contracts should be tied to wages and ensure that contracted workers are paid enough to make ends meet. Additionally, though, subsidies should go to companies that either make an explicit effort to hire those with conviction records or that have structures in place to prevent discrimination against those with conviction records. Contracted companies that do not meet wage requirements and/or are found to discriminate against those with conviction records should lose their contracts.
Ensure that those with conviction records are eligible for safety net programs. While some people with conviction records have family or other support structures to help them get by until they find employment, many have no support upon release. Additionally, because many can only find low-wage employment, additional supports like subsidized housing are still necessary. When safety net programs like housing vouchers and food stamps exclude those with conviction records, it can make it impossible for those with records to even scrape by, let alone find any measure of financial security. Additionally, those who are eligible for benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps should be able to enroll prior to release.