Written by Selwynne Hawkins
For people who have been recently incarcerated, access to a stable job reduces the chances of recidivism and is a key factor in successful integration into the community. But, even after an offender has “served their time,” they continue to face stigma and discrimination for mistakes they made in the past. This stigma manifests itself in many ways, making it difficult for people with criminal records to find employment.
In a year-long project, the Research and Evaluation team at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary performed a qualitative analysis to investigate the barriers people with criminal records face in their search for employment.
Barriers to finding and securing employment
Most employers require criminal record checks for job applicants. A clean record is taken as an assurance of good character. However, the implications of a criminal record check are not always clear or transparent. In some cases, a prior offence that shows up on a police information check is unrelated to the job application at hand or occurred when the individual was younger or in a challenging phase of their lives.
Larger employers often have policies in place for hiring people with criminal records, while often smaller employers may not always have a policy in place. Employers without policy surrounding criminal records are more likely to reject applicants with criminal records, as they are lacking knowledge of best practices for addressing criminal records within their own organizational context.
Unlike the human rights acts of Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, the Alberta Human Rights Act does not protect against discrimination based on criminal record. For Albertans with criminal records, a criminal record can be a significant barrier to securing employment. Even after someone with a criminal record has secured employment, they may still face stigma and discrimination in their workplace should this record become known outside of the employer.
Without access to sustainable employment, individuals tend to find ways to secure some means of financial support by being forced to work in dangerous conditions and/or end up working under the table for less than what would be available to them should they be working legitimately. They work without benefits, the security of WCB, and without vacation pay or overtime pay as required by law.
Some of the recommendations we learned from the research were that we need to start addressing these barriers, with accessible information and education for employers. This education will assist them in implementing changes to their human resource policies regarding exclusionary practices around criminal records. It will open up possibilities for employers to have more meaningful and open discussions around criminal records. Secondly, and a much larger challenge is to address changes in legislation requiring employees to investigate past criminal records on a criteria that includes length of time since the record was incurred and whether the record has relevant risk to the position being hired.
What can your workplace do to give women a chance at integrating successfully with employment and providing them with the independence they need to avoid becoming recriminalized?