Approximately one out of every four people of working age have a criminal record. Surveys show that approximately 92% of employers check criminal records when hiring for some or all jobs. For this reason, many individuals are unable to find viable employment due to criminal records dating back decades. This negatively impacts the potential for these individuals to be rehabilitated and become productive members of society. The inability to obtain viable employment can lead to recidivism and increases the state unemployment rate and the amount of taxpayer dollars being spent to support them when they are unable to support themselves and their families. Conversely, if these individuals are able to obtain gainful employment, they become tax-paying, productive members of society. These individuals have served their time and, once released from prison, deserve to be treated equally in every aspect of their lives. Once an individual has served their prison sentence and is released, he or she is entitled to the same rights as any other American citizen, including the Constitutional right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. When they are prohibited from employment opportunities based on a criminal past, these rights are being unjustly taken away.
Additionally, the mission of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections claims to be “ . . . to provide opportunities for inmates to acquire the skills and values necessary to become productive law-abiding citizens, while respecting the rights of crime victims.” With the laws currently in place, this mission will never be realized as employers legally discriminate against applicants with criminal pasts – no matter how old their criminal records are. Additionally, state money continues to be spent on training and rehabilitative programs that will never meet their ultimate goals for the same reason. Laws must be enacted which will make these programs successful and allow ex-convicts the opportunity to actually be rehabilitated and lead productive lives.
The current law governing the use of records for employment states, “Felony and misdemeanor convictions may be considered by the employer only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant’s suitability for employment in the position for which he has applied.” It also states that, “The employer shall notify in writing the applicant if the decision not to hire the applicant is based in whole or in part on criminal history record information.” 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 9125. This law is too broad and completely unenforceable. Few, if any, employers are going to create additional responsibilities and liabilities on their part by admitting that a decision not to hire is based on an individual’s past criminal conviction. This law also provides no guidelines outlining exactly what qualifies as an “applicant’s suitability,” in relation to a job, leaving this broad statement open to many interpretations that can be detrimental to the applicant’s potential employment.
New laws must be enacted limiting the amount of time a potential employer can search into an individual’s criminal background and ensuring the subject individual that they will be afforded appropriate opportunities to obtain gainful employment.