Get a job: Why restricting employment for ex-felons is counterproductive

by | May 24th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (31)
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Last Wednesday, Chris Linder was sworn into office as mayor of Pawnee, but he may not be allowed to serve. In 2000, Linder was convicted of a felony in Arizona for his role in a drug deal and gun battle. He served five years in prison and three years of probation.

After completing his sentence two years ago, Linder moved to Pawnee with his wife. He bought a local restaurant, volunteered with the Chamber of Commerce and as a baseball coach, and joined the First Baptist Church. He was elected mayor in April, beating out the incumbent and another former mayor. The felony became public during the campaign, but a plurality of voters believed he was the right person to lead the city anyway.

What they didn’t know was that Oklahoma law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from holding a public office for 15 years after their sentence is completed. Linder applied for a pardon after learning about the law, but Arizona turned him down.

The problem is not unique to public officials. Oklahoma law puts up barriers to ex-felons pursuing a long list of professions, even when the job has no connection to their crime. Professions requiring a state license in Oklahoma include cosmetologists, funeral directors, athletic trainers, pawnbrokers, and marital and family therapists, among others. For all of these, a state-appointed board can deny a license to anyone with a felony conviction, regardless of what their crime was or how long ago it was committed.

Senator Harry Coates (R-Seminole) sponsored a bill last year that would have changed the restriction to only apply if the crime “substantially relates to the practice” of the profession or poses a reasonable threat to public safety. It was initially approved in both the House and Senate but in the end not taken up by the House Conference Committee.

Even for jobs not restricted by the state, the situation is little better. An investigation by the National Employment Law Project found numerous companies applying blanket exclusions against workers with a criminal history.

Oklahomans are especially affected since our state has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, and 8.5 percent of all Oklahomans have a felony conviction. Rev. Tony Zahn, executive director of the The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM),  said the need for jobs among ex-felons is so great that even felon-friendly employers “don’t necessarily like to be included on a felon-friendly list,” because they will be inundated with applicants.

This is counterproductive for several reasons. First, if a person commits a crime and completes their full sentence, we should want them to find a way to support themselves and rejoin society. They will be less likely to re-offend and more able to contribute their talents to the economy. Just as it is undemocratic to not allow the voters of Pawnee their choice for mayor, it is contrary to free markets to prevent a qualified person who is not a threat to public safety from taking a job.

It is also counter to a rational justice system, where punishments should fit the crime. A blanket prohibition makes no distinction between someone sentenced to three years or thirty. As Julie DelCour wrote in The Tulsa World, “is it fair to exclude an applicant from being hired to work, say, the airline ticket counter because he or she was convicted of shoplifting at 18?”

We made good progress this year with some initial corrections reforms, and House Speaker Kris Steele says that “this is only the first step.” As we consider those next steps, giving ex-felons a fair chance at decent jobs should be high on the list.

31 Responses to “Get a job: Why restricting employment for ex-felons is counterproductive”

  1. Rowana says:

    When a person is convicted, he is sentenced by the court and has the constitutional right to appeal the punishment if it is too harsh or does not fit the crime. Nowhere in the sentence does it state that he has job restrictions. Once he has served his legally imposed punishment, that is where it should end. Instead of encouraging ex-felons to get jobs and become tax payers, they are denied jobs everywhere. This is a major problem and when many can’t get a legitimate job, they just return to illegal activities. This is a prime example of this insane outlook upon a rehabilitated ex-felon. He served his sentence. Once a sentence is served, he should be restored to FULL RIGHTS. Otherwise, with limits on his freedom, he is still “in custody.” If society does not want him employed, then society should pay his bills. Talented smart people are not going to flip hamburgers at McDonald’s nor should they have to. That was NOT part of the sentence imposed. This guy should be REWARDED, Oklahoma. Why can’t he hold office? Government offices are full of professional crooks who have not been caught yet anyway, including sexual perverts like the INS Frenchman! So why not a family man? Crazy crap, absolutely crazy.

    • Larry Musgrove says:

      After completion of 6 years in custody with Oklahoma Department of Corrections for a drug felony, I came face to face with this horrendous barrier to employment. I applied to many jobs I am qualified for but because of my felony I was denied employment. Its a shame that even though I have paid my dues I continue to pay now. In this state a felony should be considered a life sentence regardless of the actual length of the sentence.
      Finally someone took a chance on me. I appreciate that someone believed in me. I was hired as a job coach to work with adults with developmental disabilities. The pay isn’t great but the rewards are paid directly to the heart. Such a wonderful thing to make a difference in the life of these wonderful people! In March of this year, (2013), I was given the award of excellence for my service to adults with developmental disabilities at the Governors conference on developmental disabilities. The award was given through DDSD DHS of the state of Oklahoma. I am proud of this award.
      In this month of September I once again felt the effects of my LIFE sentence come back. The same state agency that gave me the award terminated my employment as a Job Coach due to the felony in my background. Now I am back at square one looking for employment. Once again I’m turned down at every corner. I refuse to give up. Somewhere out there someone will take a chance on me again.
      Yes, our lawmakers need to address this problem soon. Legislation to eliminate the question about felonies or at least limit how far back background checks can be made. Removal of the available nonviolent felonies from background checks once the offender has paid for their offence.
      Now I once again

      • jermainetinsley66@gmail.com says:

        Is there any laws to prohibit employers from discrimination based on a act that dates well over 20 years? Is there a man date and or a statue of limitations as to how far an employer may go back to disqualify and a potential employee? Shouldn’t there be a clause implemented in such cases where the offense occurred was nonviolent. In order to reduce the ricidivion rate as well as the counter productiveism that is posturing our economy? It’s not that’s its no jobs its just the bothering policies that discriminate against the citizens who want and need work. That the problem. Now let us get into the solution which effects a great number of Americans. Help! I’m one voice that is speaking out for the many who is asking is this discrimination based on upon ones history as felon and nonfelon is constitutional? The Constitution states their shall be no disticntion between citizens? If that’s correct then why haven’t the constitutionalaity of these discriminating practices not chanlenged? Is this type of discrimination is constitutional or unconstitioanal is the question to be anserwd.

  2. [...] to head the new federal consumer protection agency. The OK Policy Blog explains why restricting employment opportunities for ex-felons is [...]

  3. [...] and widespread.  In Oklahoma, it’s even explicitly permitted by statute.  As we previously blogged about here, state law puts up barriers to ex-felons pursuing a long list of professions, including [...]

  4. I don’t think many people realize how many felons are out of work – it’s probably around 5 million (give or take) You can find jobs and employers that hire felons at http://www.xamire.com, but the site is new, and doesn’t have many listings for every city. The community rocks though, you can usually find an answer to your questions.

  5. Bruce Goff says:

    The situation is made worse by the fact that a number of victimless crimes (simple possession of a CDS, for example) are classified as felonies by the state of Oklahoma. When you can make a totally victimless crime a felony, you diminish the significance of what a felony is supposed to represent. With respect to those convicted of such crimes, these non-violent non-larcenous unfortunates are then in the exact same situation as violent offenders who are being discriminated against for employment opportunities throughout the state.

    • Tonja Archer says:

      This is so true! In Oklahoma our young people are at high risk of a ruined life due to a felony for a victim-less crime! I can’t tell you how many times my teenage son was stopped by police for small things simply for the opportunity to ask to search his car! He has that “look” that is profiled by police constantly. One of his friends was a really great kid, 21, who wanted to join the military but they would not take him due to a drug felony a couple of years earlier (victim- less crime of possession of one CDS pill in his pocket). He was looking everywhere and could not find a job anywhere. He had multiple fines to pay and under severe pressure to pay or go to jail. He had a bench warrant for failure to pay b/c he was broke. He was so excited when he got a call for a job interview at Big Lots but it fell through because of the warrant. He ended up being caught a few weeks later taking change from unlocked cars to try and pay his fines and was sentenced to 3 years in prison due to his previous felony. WE are turning our kids into criminals, victim-less drug crimes needs treatment, not prison sentences & fines that force unemployable felons to turn to crime to pay their fines!

      • Tami says:

        My son just got out of prison in April on a early release, he was suppose to get the interstate compact and transfer to Arkansas with family. The Judge would not let him until all of his fines and fees are paid, so he is homeless and with out family support. What do they expect him to do, so I feel they are setting him up for failure. Its heart breaking

  6. Dana says:

    He can go to work for the state of Oklahoma. DHS has several felons that work for them. So I guess the felony restrictions only apply to public office but I doubt it. It is more likely that he is not friends with the right people.

  7. [...] Get a job: Why restricting employment for ex-felons is counterproductive -  When the duly-elected mayor of Pawnee was forced out of office because of a prior felony [...]

  8. m1brewer says:

    I have written a book titled Thinking Outside the Blox which is a book with 22 little known business options for people who cannot get employed due to a felony conviction. Each chapter spells the business out in a step by step format. Have you ever thought about being a mold inspector or starting a mold remediation business? Did you know the mold inspection course is just 2-3 days and about $300.00 dollars. After you take the course you can get started. Your first inspection will pay for the course. I spell how to get started in this business and 21 other businesses. please order the book from the website thinking outside the blox dot com. My hope is that you either start one of the businesses that i have listed or you start to at least think about your options differently and maybe start a business that i did not describe in the book. I pray that we can begin to think outside the city blocks, cell blocks and all that block felons from getting employed. We have to start thinking outside the 9-5 paradigm. This books makes no mention of job training, what to say as a felon on an interview or who commonly hires felons. Starting your own business is the only answer.

    Michael A. Brewer Author of Thinking Outside the Blox

  9. john jeffries says:

    i have become so very frustrated here lately on this issue. I am an ex felon and for at least the last month have become more and more frustrated by companys telling me no because i have felonies. you cant even get a decent apartment if you have felonies. How do they expect us to survive? i have a new born baby to think about and a five year old and as eviction and past due bills loom the thought that illegal activities can pay those bills comes into my mind. That is not however an option so what do i do its like the state wants to force me back into the penitentary this is wrong and needs to be fixed period point blank.

  10. yjudgeme says:

    Like the individual said a person had served time whether it was probation or x n jail the person has paid their debt to society ,only GOD can judge , but like I said u people who r trying to judge ,know where u been ,but u don’t know where u r going , u don’t know whats ahead , meaning u don’t know what’s going to happen n the future, only GOD knows , u suppose to b Christians out there,in the real world have a heart ,Don’t 4 get God sits high & looks low , so he see all I’m quit sure that u will have 2 call on Jesus 4 something, look at your own life know 1 is perfectsoooooooo please stop judging others , until u walk in there shoes, u don’t know know them , there will call a time when maybe oneday

  11. yjudgeme says:

    Everyone has done something wrong in there life, some people just haven’t got caught, u people hear the word felon , u automatically start judging, I know everyone has a right to there opinion but, please look at your own life , an ask yourself, would God like me judging someone& I don’t even know them, God Is to judge ,these laws need to change I hope & pray that u people open your hearts& minds an help these people, don’t forget God created us all , we r all Gods children, I pray 4 people in this world to change ,God has blessed a lot a people to b in portions to help others, that is a blessings from God, so please u people in high places please help felons, they deserve a second chance, they r human beings

  12. DMDiamond says:

    I too am a felon trying to get a job in the state of KY. I don’t like
    to explain all the details of what happened but to shed a little light
    I need to give a little background. I notice that it seems that many
    people lump all felons into one box and this just is not so. That said
    this is my story. I’m now 59 in 2008 I was involved in a single car
    accident in which my wife did not survive. I was charged with 2nd
    Degree Manslaughter. I plea bargained down to Aggravated Reckless
    Homicide. My background checks, though not convicted of, still reflect
    2nd Degree Manslaughter. I was facing a 15 year sentence. I was not
    drunk my wife and I had dinner and 3 drinks in a 3 hour period. The
    state really had no evidence against me they could use. they couldn’t
    even prove who was driving. I could have fought it til the cows came
    home and still lost…..but the agreement gave me a price tag and a
    final date I could live with. This is not a story seeking sympathy but
    simply to point out how screwed up our system is. I had a 37 year
    career in the Machine Tool Industry. I traveled the world practicing
    my craft. I have never had any run in’s with the law. I have a clean
    driving record and always have had. I have always worked excessive
    overtime which is just the nature of the business. but I averaged more
    then 65 hours a week over the life of my career. So I’m not a person
    who lives or ever lived off of tax payer dollars. I always paid more
    then my share and would continue to do so if only given the chance. I
    was never in the military but I have been responsible for saving the
    lives of many of our soldiers many times over. and still would be
    involved in those activities if given the chance. Many of the projects
    I have worked on have been defense and are still in use today. No I
    don’t want a hero’s welcome just making a point here. I drove off the
    road that night because I fell sleep behind the wheel on a narrow
    winding road. I had been in my 7th week of 70 plus hours a week and
    took my wife out to dinner for the first time she had been out of the
    house in over 6 weeks. This dinner cost me, my wife, my career, my
    car, my home over 1/2 million dollars, my freedom, my rights and my
    integrity. I was given 5 years probation and 360 days in jail. I have
    been trying to get a job ever since my release. I answer every ad that
    comes my way. I cannot begin to tell you how many applications I have
    filled out. To date I am working at a temp service for 10.00 an hour
    and if I’m lucky I get to work 2 days a week. I’m on call and 2 steps
    from homelessness. This is the only company that has given me the
    opportunity to work at all. When I do get a call to go to work this 59
    year old man swings 85 lb. engine blocks for 12 hours straight. I’m on
    call for work so trying to set up an interview for a better position
    is tricky at best. If anybody thinks that a felon can get a job even
    with a felony they are mistaken. yes it can be done. But success is
    the exception not the rule. For those of you who think that well they
    should have thought of that before they committed their crime. I pity
    the fools. For those of you who feel that Tax payers should not bare
    the brunt of re-introducing the felon back into society. Wake up.
    Every case should be based on it’s own merits. Isn’t that what a free
    country is supposed to be about? If you think that it’s saving tax
    dollars to not hire a felon who would then be a tax payer. Check your
    math stupid. That argument is apples and oranges. If you think this
    cannot happen to you. Shame on you not the felon. Expect it when you
    least expect it. I don’t expect to get a job from this post I only
    hope to open the eyes of people everywhere and this is a start. You
    want to clear out the jails. well today a person has to have
    transportation, phone and internet to even think about getting a job.
    If that person is a felon odds of success are reduced by 90%. You
    don’t want to see homeless people on your streets and you don’t want
    to see repeat offenders. So OK where do these people go? I hear it’s
    not impossible keep trying. How long can you try with no food and no
    roof and no family when the odds are stacked against you? We Americans
    think that things we don’t like will go away if we ignore them. Well
    they don’t if programs are not established to eliminate these things
    they will only get worse. The thinking in our country is all wrong. We
    perpetrate the things we fight against. STILL TRYING STILL FIGHTING TO
    STAY ABOVE WATER. THANK YOU FOR READING MY POST.

  13. Kelly says:

    I have to agree. If a felon (federal here-moral turpitude) can never put it behind them, for god’s sake PUT A BULLET IN OUR HEADS immediately. At the very least show that much compassion. My conviction was 25 years ago. Yes, I was technically an adult at 23 but really?? How mature is someone really at 23? I even confessed to what I did because I felt so badly at what I had done. I had never been in trouble with the law before. Never have done drugs.

    I was sentenced to 6 months in a 1/2 way house, 5 years monthly supervised probation, restitution & a fine. All of which I completed without issue.

    Now here it is-I was laid off from an office job (regional marketing manager) when the economy tanked 3 years & 3 months ago. I had started out with this company as a temp secretary & worked my way up to making 50+k year plus bonuses. I had a modest home, a condo that was investment property, paid my bills, gave healthily to United Way & other charities, contributed to my 401k, had a good emergency savings, volunteered with animal rescue, etc.

    I have since lost my house & the 100+k that I had tied up in it. My 401k has been cashed out & exhausted, my emergency savings is just about gone. I could not renew my tenants lease at the condo because I had to move in there (it has a mortgage but less than house) so they were displaced.

    I have NO family to fall back on. I am 6 months from being homeless. I cannot find a job. I am female, 49 & not in the best of shape physically so manual labor jobs aren’t a viable job prospect.

    All I wanted was to be able to train in a profession that if there wasn’t a job at x location I could at least move to another location & try for that occupation there. But no, can’t put my past behind me?

    I can’t sell my condo for what I owe on it because they are being foreclosed on left & right & auctioned for $30-50k by the banks. Just 2 weeks ago NINE were foreclosed on in the same day!

    How can this be happening? I made a mistake when I was 23 that I tried to right almost as soon as I did it & it still defines my life?

  14. Brandy McComb says:

    At 22, a legal adult, a mental adolescent escaping an abusive past, I got on the wrong side of some crooked cops that trumped 7 misdemeanor charges and 2 felonies, burglary and arson. I am soon to be 37. Can barely function on my perpetual government dependence on a state check that barely puts food in my mouth. Am angry because the charges were cr*p and now have to live life as a felon forever. 15 years I have lived in utter poverty (this is a library computer), no job will hire me. My dreams are just having enough to eat for the month and not having to do without food to long. Have I ever been tempted to just go to prison and end the suffering I have endured at the hands of a greedy society and have food, showers, place to sleep, without worry of eviction due to non payment of rent. I want out of this nightmare but no end in sight. Have resigned to the fact that my life belongs to the unforgiving Uncle Sam and must accept that I will forever be at his feet to be kicked and stomped until the day I die. Sad reality. A job would give me something to look forward to and a sense of doing something to help this ever increasing cruel world. I have been punished a million times over for cr*p that happened 15 years ago. Also the sentence was deferred but did not even have the money to pay a lawyer or the courts to get the record cleared. So I am branded for life and am almost DAM proud of what I have had to do to survive and the stamina and strength it has produced. Am growing weary now and at the end of my rope. Dont know what will happen at this point. I am human and have finally reached my limit.

  15. Ana Chavez-Maendele says:

    Seems such a shame that so many people, good, rehabilitated and potentially productive people should be ostracized and put down to such devastating circumstances.

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