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