Surviving a Felony Conviction

The job market is picking up, but getting hired into a position with benefits is still difficult.  It often depends on a lucky break even for a highly-qualified candidate.  For a job applicant with a felony record the prospects are much worse and more and more young people get caught up in the criminal justice system.

In my criminal practice I have stood next to many first offenders as they plead guilty.  As much as I love winning trials, a plea deal is often the only reasonable choice.  However, pleading guilty to avoid time in prison still results in a criminal record unless the prosecutor agrees to a plea “under advisement” or other mechanism that avoids a reported conviction.

The taint of a criminal record is becoming more and more prevalent as younger and younger defendants are being prosecuted.  Events in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland and Inkster, Michigan, among other places, illustrate that young men of color often receive harsh treatment by police.  Situations that would in past generations have resulted in warnings or calls to parents to pick up the young person at the police station are now resulting in criminal convictions.  It is tough in a dry economy for people to take chances with people who have a record and background checks have become routine because commercial background screening services are cheap and very easy to use.

Surviving a criminal record is difficult, but not impossible.  First off, the felon has to recognize that being a felon puts him or her in an entirely different category of citizen.  For example, felons are barred from voting in many states, even after release from prison or parole, although neither Michigan nor Pennsylvania is in that category.  For hunters, a more burdensome disability is that felons may not possess firearms.  This, in itself, puts many jobs off-limits for those with felony records.

Secondly, the felon should find a job – any job.  He or she must exercise his or her social network and find work that produces a paycheck.  Under-the-table employment is not an option.  It is further criminal activity and will not improve the felon’s overall chances of moving on in life.

Third, the felon should get a degree or acquire a skill that is in demand, but does not involve handling money or working with children or older adults.  See every episode of “Dirty Jobs” for ideas.  Working for a company that rents and maintains porta-johns is nobody’s idea of fun, but it pays well and the competition for jobs is a lot less fierce than the competition for jobs tasting beer or interviewing models.  Gainful employment, no matter how dirty or undesirable, commands greater respect than being unemployed.

Fourth, the person with a criminal record should volunteer everywhere and develop a record for rehabilitation. Churches, public service organizations and municipal centers are great places to establish a reputation for being helpful, ambitious and organized.  A rehabilitation portfolio with reference letters, certificates, and any waivers that have been granted is very helpful.  Many felony exclusions are waivable if there is a demonstrated pattern of rehabilitation.  It is helpful to have the right to travel to Canada reinstated, acquire professional license that has a moral character check, or get bonded.

Finally, the person must never lie about is or her record.  Do not leave the question about criminal record blank.  Even if the person gets past the employment screening process, the result will be a disaster when the false representation is discovered.

While having a felony record is a special circumstance that makes it difficult to find employment, anyone who is entering the workforce without a solid résumé will have similar problems.  The advice above can be helpful for anyone with limited job history.

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200

©2015 John B. Payne, Attorney

No Comment on "Surviving a Felony Conviction"

  • Ive noticed another trend that is thwarting decent employment for many, many people… the credit check/report/rating. its as bad as felony disenfranchisment. Nobody takes things in to account such as -maybe didnt pay bills x, y, or z because food/shelter was the priority at the time, or maybe -lowered scoring due to a lack of whats considered an appropriate credit history. Many items people pay for on an ongoing basis for long periods of time (like rent or utilities) dont get reported to your credit record, like a loan or credit card, to help the score. it sure gets reported quickly and without fail if those uncounted payments are in arrears though. And last but not least, incorrect or expired information on a credit check can kill a score. The major credit reporting agencies have continually shown theyre incapable of accurately reporting or correcting credit record information. But these reports are still the golden standard by businesses to judge a persons quality of character in situations that do not require credit worthiness God forbis a company get off their ass and do any actual reference checking, right? Its bullshit.

    An ambitious young person I know has been looking for better employment opportunities when they arise. I told her of open positions with a company contracted to transport prison inmates (state and federal) within our state.The job provided paid CDL training, full benefits immediately, and pay for a 40 hour work week, regardless of whether there was that amount of work or not (WOW!, huh?). Starting pay upon hiring, including training, is $15.36/hr. There is no cash handling or inmate account access for this job.

    She had already applied for the position within the past year. The company was all set to hire her on… Until the credit report came back.

    There needs to be something done about the misuse of credit reports in the job search market. Between this and criminal disenfranchisement Im wondering if some entity really WANTS to keep the unemployment rates high.

    • It’s partially plain old bureaucracy. The people in charge of hiring want simple, objective screening tools to reduce the number of applicants that they have to investigate and interview. The credit score at least arguably measures a candidate’s effectiveness and reliability. If they can get rid of half the applicants by setting a minimum credit score, they have saved a lot of work for themselves.

      Another factor is that our society heaps disadvantages on the disadvantage. If you came from a poor neighborhood and went to substandard school, all those well-heeled, well educated suburbanites do not want you to get a break. By the way, class barriers are not just between the poor and the middle class. Those in the middle class are excluded from the boardrooms, gated communities and country clubs of the rich.


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