Why do you think they call it "Corrections"?
Ridge Forrester
September 1996

Recently my company found itself in a position to hire about a dozen part time employees in the local area. So we placed an ad and got close to 100 responses. I was tasked with contacting the respondents and scheduling them for interviews.

My boss and I conducted the interviews after each person completed an application. One of the questions on the application asks, "have you been convicted of a felony within the last five years? (does not automatically bar employment. Each case is considered on its own merits)" I have been hiring people for this company for quite sometime but had never had anyone who answered yes to that question. Until now.

Three people out of 18 checked the "yes" block. At the interviews, I asked each of them to explain (as it does on the application) the circumstances. One 20-year old said that he had been busted for forgery and that it was a stupid thing he had done when he was 18. He was currently on probation. This young man impressed both my boss and I in every other aspect of the interview. At the end of the day I asked my boss if there was a company policy regarding this situation. She, too, had never had to concern herself with it, so she checked with our district manager. Here's what he said: "If you see that the 'yes' box is checked, you just don't mention it in the interview at all. Then you just never call the person back."

Then why does the application state that a yes answer does not automatically bar employment? I didn't like the answer. I wanted to hire this guy. I've been a pretty good judge of who is and who isn't going to work out with this company and I knew that this one would, if given the chance. My boss had also thought that he was a good candidate. The hiring decisions were in my hands.

I called the applicant and asked him some more questions. I told him that I wanted to hire him but that his application was preventing me from doing so. "Do you understand what I mean?" I asked. "Yes, sir," he replied. I felt like Peppermint Patty (stop calling me sir). Anyway, I then said, "You know, I have misplaced your application. I apologize for that, but can I send you another one to complete and bring to our next training session?" "Yes, sir" was the answer again. The following week he was the first to arrive at the training session with the completed application. The felony question was answered with a "no."

Did I tell this young man to lie? Not directly. Maybe not even indirectly. But what I really want to know is, if my company has a policy of not hiring any convicted felons, is this discrimination? Further, how can we expect any better behavior from someone in a situation like this if we don't give them a chance to prove themselves? This young man is only 20 years old. If he consistently finds that he can't get hired anywhere because of a mistake he made as a teenager, what is the likelihood that he will return to being a criminal? Yes, he was caught, convicted, and the courts determined the best course of action for him to pay his debt to society. Why should we now deny him the opportunity we give to anyone else? This is why they call it the Department of Corrections. It is because it is there to correct [emphasis on "correct"] errant behavior? One of the largest problems today where crime is concerned is that too many people think that it's the Department of Storage--just a place to warehouse criminals. "Why should criminals get to watch television, or work out in a gym, learn a skill, or study to get a degree?" they scream. Well, wouldn't you rather that a former criminal be released with a marketable skill or knowledge to enable that person to become gainfully employed? Or would you rather they be dumped onto the street with no direction, where the easiest thing to do is go back to crime. If we are going to spend the tons of money it takes to house prisoners, let's call it an investment and get a return on it.

Oh, and the guy I hired? He has been with the company for about 5 months and of the twelve we hired, he has been the quickest learner and the most reliable and dependable. He has also started attending college on a part-time basis while he continues to work.

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker