News that the bank JP Morgan in the USA is going to open up jobs to those with a criminal record may be good news for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that relaxed its finance sector hiring rules last year, but not necessarily for the bank’s customers who expect their money to be protected with the highest levels of security.
Look at the issue more widely and it becomes evident that a lot of attention in many countries has been given to the plight of ex-convicts seeking work, but not to the vulnerability of companies taking them on, or their unsuspecting clients. Globally, there are over 35 million proven criminal acts every year and probably ten times more than that – if the party causing infractions could be proven. One third of the US population and one third of men in the UK have criminal records and in US states such as Georgia 15% of the population have convictions for felonies. Crime is a serious epidemic, and it will not go away if society tries to sweep the past under the carpet.
Yet employers have to face often huge barriers during the recruitment process and when seeking to dismiss workers who commit criminal offences. Laws protecting ex-offenders – like the UK’s ‘Rehabilitation of Offenders Act – were established to reduce discrimination against those with criminal records, but with little attention given to the way that a job can open up new opportunities for those with criminal intent to continue to offend, or the duty of care an employer has for the safety of its workers as a whole.
The world’s love affair with ex-convicts even goes up to the highest levels. As a result of India’s recent national elections 43% of elected MPs now have criminal records, in a country that already not only suffers from widescale political corruption, but 30,000 murders and 88,000 kidnappings and abductions each year. In many countries it is extremely difficult for an employer to dismiss someone when they have been arrested, or even convicted of a crime. For instance, in Spain and Australia it is unlawful to dismiss an employee for any criminal act not connected with their work. An employer may only dismiss people even found guilty of serious crimes for the extended period of uncertified absence when they are in prison.
In practice, a company that discovers criminal wrongdoing in the workplace usually uses the threat of involving the police to persuade the employee to resign. This then leaves the crime unrecorded and the next employer vulnerable to further criminal acts.
According to Robin Chater, Secretary-General of the Federation of International Employers (FedEE) “What is wrong with all criminal justice systems is that offenders are incarcerated with those who have criminal inclinations. It reinforces the criminal community and culture rather than exposes them to individuals with honesty and integrity. It is as inept a practice as doctors’ waiting rooms where sick patients are clustered together and consequently infect each other. No wonder health systems fail too.
Our over-readiness to forgive also ignores the fact that crimes have victims and that no period of incarceration, or words of regret are going to repair what has been done to the victim by the heartless actions of those who flout the law. Offenders must therefore serve their punishment and then spend a substantial period proving that they deserve to be treated equally.
If governments wish to create jobs for ex-offenders they should set up facilities themselves. A period engaged in honest work in such a transit facility would prove whether an ex-offender had actually reformed and eventually could enter back into mainstream society.”