Criminal Justice

New Survey Reveals American Consumers Support Businesses Hiring Those with Criminal Records

New research from SHRM and Stand Together Trust found that the vast majority of American consumers support purchasing goods and services from businesses that employ people with non-violent criminal records.

April 16, 2019

New research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Stand Together Trust released earlier this month found that the vast majority of American consumers, or 78 percent, support purchasing goods and services from businesses that employ people with non-violent criminal records. The new findings come during Second Chance Month, which raises awareness about the barriers to employment and other challenges faced by those with criminal records.

Among the most pressing issues faced by those exiting the prison system, and those with a criminal record, is access to employment. The stigma associated with having a criminal record, along with job applications that require applicants to disclose their criminal history, have prevented many from acquiring gainful employment. In fact, between 60 percent and 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed one year after being released.

Without a secure stream of income, the likelihood of recidivism dramatically increases. Today, one in four Americans now carries a criminal record that limits their employment opportunities. But, as the survey results show, opinions on this issue are starting to change.

The new survey also found that more than one-half of the respondents, or 55 percent, feel comfortable purchasing goods or services from businesses if a customer-facing employee has spent five or more years behind bars. An additional 75 percent said they felt comfortable buying goods and services from a business that is known to offer individuals with criminal records a second chance through employment opportunities.

“We now know there’s little truth to the perception that customers will vehemently balk at the idea of shopping at a place that employs people with criminal records,” said Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at STT. “As the country experiences a labor shortage, more businesses would be wise to consider hiring people with records — especially given that both customers and employees are extremely receptive to the idea.”

Though hearts and minds do appear to be changing on the issue, many are still hesitant to work with those convicted of violent crimes. According to the survey, less than one-third of Americans polled, or 31 percent, said they feel comfortable buying goods or services from businesses where a customer-facing employee has a violent criminal record. An additional 63 percent responded that this would make them uncomfortable.

While it is easy to understand why many would be hesitant to work alongside those once convicted of a violent crime, what constitutes a violent crime is not so clearly defined. For example, if someone is convicted of entering someone else’s home, a burglary charge is considered a violent crime whether or not any physical violence has occurred. Likewise, purse snatching, the manufacturing of methamphetamine, and drug theft are all considered violent crimes, even in the absence of actual physical violence.

There are many caveats to violent offenses for potential employers to consider. For example, a charge resulting from a bar fight should not necessarily be weighed the same as a far more serious charge from the perspective of a potential employer. Leaning on HR professionals to help guide employers through the hiring process is essential to making sure each situation is viewed independently.

“There is not a clear-cut answer to whether an organization should hire someone with a criminal background for a position,” said Trent Burner, SHRM’s vice president of research and a former Walmart executive. “It depends on a number of factors, including the type of job and the job duties … the type of crime committed, the length of time since the crime was committed, employment history since the crime was committed, and more.”

The new findings compliment a previous SHRM and STT survey, which found that employees are eager to offer former offenders a second chance through employment opportunities. The previous survey results, which were released last year, found that 74 percent of managers and 84 percent of HR professionals nationwide are willing or open to hiring individuals with a criminal record. Across all groups surveyed, over 80 percent said they were willing and open to working with individuals with criminal records. 

The new survey results also come just after the launch of the SHRM’s initiative, Getting Talent Back to Work , which provides employers and HR specialists with a toolkit that empowers them to confidently hire individuals with criminal records.

“The key to reducing recidivism and improving public safety is finding employment for people. If individuals with a criminal record can be considered for employment based on their talent and skills, the benefits for the business—and society—are far-reaching,” says Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at STT. “HR professionals are well positioned to provide counsel and generate a tailored set of best practice principles that will benefit both the business and the individuals seeking a second chance.”

Read more about the Society for Human Resource Management’s research here.