I asked people with conviction histories about barriers to employment. Here’s what they told me.

July 12, 2023
By Susan Mason

I asked union craftworkers and foremen working on a billion dollar construction project in downtown Seattle, Washington, questions about being sent by their union halls to construction sites with regulatory barriers.

Here are their answers:

Have you ever been turned down for a job because of a conviction history? Have you tried since? 

  • Yes, Fort Lewis and Bangor. No, I haven’t.
  • Yes, Boeing and Sea-Tac. No, I haven’t.
  • Yes, airport. I couldn’t work inside the gate. No, I haven’t.
  • Yes, I applied for a job at Bradkens Foundry, was hired, they ran a background check, and let me go. No, I have not.
  • Yes, the refinery. They ran a background check after they hired me and let me go. No, I have not.
  • (Foreman:) Yes, Boeing jobs. No, I did not.
  • Yes, I was working for Skanska at Boeing. They ran a background check, and I was fired. No, I have not.
  • Yes probably, but sometimes they just don’t tell you why you didn’t get the job, but you always know. I do not reapply.
  • (Foreman:) Yes, Naval base. Denied all access. No, I did not.

Is there a need to open up more jobs to people with conviction histories (PWCH)? Is it harder for them to find work?

  • There is just a need for more jobs. Depending on the work, I can get a job in the trades, but that’s about it. Even then there’s still jobs I can’t do.
  • I do think there’s a need, because once you have served your sentence it should be done. Yes, it’s harder to get quality jobs. If there’s more jobs, people can go on with their lives and stay out of trouble. It’s absolutely harder to find work.
  • Absolutely, because if you have served your sentence and have a chance to succeed, you won’t go back to the life you had before.
  • Yes, it’s harder for us to find jobs.
  • Yes, there is but with certain felonies, it is harder to find work.
  • Yes, there is. You get turned away pretty quickly. We need to have more lenient hiring practices, and, yes, it’s harder.
  • People need opportunities to change their life around. Yes, it’s harder for us to find jobs.
  • Yes. Tried to get a job over and over again. Finally I went back to my old ways, because I just gave up. I’m back on track now.
  • Yes, there is, because everyone deserves a second chance. The trades are opening up a little. I wouldn’t be where I am at today if it wasn’t for the trades.

Is there a need to open up more jobs to PWCH? Is it harder for them to find work? 

  • (Foreman:) Actually, yes, 17 years later, and I still can’t get a Naval shipyard job.
  • Yes. Myself, not able to work at Boeing and Port jobs 14 years later.

Takeaway: Experienced workers are turned away trying to access work. Once turned down by your company or public agency because of their background, they will never try again. This drives labor shortages in every regulated sector and limits access to diverse talent due to the over-criminalization of Black, Brown and Indigenous people.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, and Inflation Reduction Act jobs are not going to go to the largest and most diverse talent pool in this nation — the 79 million people with a record. They will be screened out. I invite employers and regulatory agencies to message me for ways to overcome these barriers at the federal and state level. We have solutions.

Susan Mason is a formerly incarcerated thought leader and innovator in the field of workforce development and the future of work with expertise in DEI best practices. She is a 2018 Leading with Conviction™ graduate and currently serves as a member of the JustUS Coordinating Council steering committee. Learn more at susanmasonconsulting.com.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn. Reposted here by permission. Image courtesy of Susan Mason)