Pros and Cons of Hiring Felons

Because of their criminal past, felons often have a difficult time securing employment. Many employers are hesitant to hire a felon even if they far exceed the qualifications for candidacy. They often wonder why they would hire a felon when they have plenty of candidates with clear backgrounds. However, there are many elements for an employer to consider when evaluating an applicant with a criminal background.

There are both pros and cons for employers considering whether to hire a felon. The weight with which an employer evaluates these considerations is entirely up to their own discretion. However, it is in their best interest to thoroughly evaluate them.


Saving a Life

The largest positive that can come out of hiring a felon is that an employer could quite literally be saving an individual’s life. Individuals who are convicted of a felony are often denied employment because of their criminal status. Thus, they are forced to resort to the kind of criminal activity that gained them their felon status in the first place.

This criminal activity is inherently dangerous in nature. This is especially true for crimes that involve the taking of money. These such crimes, such as drug dealing, robbery, and burglary all carrying vastly increased risks of death for those that participate.

Many are quick to write off those that commit these crimes as immoral individuals. They believe that felons shouldn’t be helped. However, many of these individuals come from backgrounds that are unimaginable to the average American. Growing up in poverty and not having a support structure at home can cause a person to resort to criminal activity just to survive. In fact, a study by Sheffield Hallam University found that 1 out of 5 homeless people have committed a crime simply to get off the streets and into jail[1].

This situation is extremely foreign to the vast majority of Americans. The disenfranchisement of homeless and less fortunate individuals has led to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality of society. This often includes employers. As a result, gainful employment often seems to elude those who didn’t grow up with certain luxuries that many take for granted.

All of this presents an opportunity for employers to change the live of felons. A job, paired with a support structure, greatly lessens the incentive for an individual to return to criminal activity.

The International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences released a study in 2014 looking at recidivism rates between employed and unemployed felons. They state, “Results of this 5-year follow-up study clearly indicated that post-release employment was as an effective buffer for reducing recidivism among ex-offenders”[2]

Employers must also realize that their actions will be seen by other companies. The hire of a felon that exceeds expectations and becomes a valuable employee will be witnessed by other organizations. This has the opportunity to create a “butterfly effect”, where these businesses make the decision to hire felons themselves.

This can all work to eventually lessen the stigma imposed on felons. This can cause an increased employment rate for felons. Resultantly, this creates greatly reduces recidivism rates.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

Admittedly, many employers focus on economics rather than morality when it comes to hiring. However, even these individuals can see substantial benefit from hiring felons. This benefit comes largely from a government program titled the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, or WOTC. The WOTC tax credit involves giving substantial tax breaks to companies who hire individuals belonging to certain demographics. Annually, companies save over 1 billion dollars by using the Work Opportunity Tax Credit[3].

The WOTC is implemented to assist individuals who would otherwise have a difficult time finding employment. Felons are in this category, as they often find employment difficult. As a result, felons are a part of the WOTC.

The WOTC works by giving employers a tax credit in the amount of 25 percent to 40 percent of an employee’s first year wages[4]. This is a substantial amount for companies, both large and small, hoping to boost their bottom line.

There is no cap to the number of employees that a company can hire under the WOTC. With a potential savings of $9,600 per year, per employee, the savings for a company can be drastic.

Production Increases

In addition to tax breaks, employers can see an impact in the hiring of felon through increased production at their company. Admittedly, the metrics of felon productivity versus that of non-felons is difficult to quantify. This is because “productivity” is subjective in nature. However, a look at an individual’s past can provide evidence of their potential productivity in the workplace.

As mentioned, felons often find gainful employment to be a difficult milestone in their post-incarceration life. As such, they are often extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to earn an honest living. This gratitude is often displayed by way of an “above and beyond” attitude in the workplace. Felons are aware that they must often work harder than their peers in order to gain and retain employment. This results in increased productivity in the workplace.


As with all hires, employers are going to carefully weigh their options when it comes to deciding who will be invited to join their company. During this process, they will likely investigate the possibility of a felon negatively affecting the workplace.

When hiring a felon, an employer will likely research the specificities of an individual’s crime. A bank manager, for instance, may have withholdings about hiring an individual with an armed robbery charge. This type of thinking is common and rational amongst employers.

Recidivism Risk

As previously stated, employment significantly reduces the rate of recidivism among ex-felons. In fact, employment nearly cuts the rate of recidivism in half[5]. However, even when this rate is cut in half, the resultant rate is higher than the rate of non-offenders likely to commit crimes. This statistic can make employers wary of hiring ex-felons, as they are statistically more likely to commit another crime.

These crimes, however, are extremely infrequently performed at or against their place of work. As stated, felons are often extremely grateful to obtain employment. They rarely commit crimes against those who gave them employment.


Employers are faced with a difficult task when it comes to deciding which candidate(s) will be hired on at their company. This is made a bit more difficult when it comes to deciding whether or not to hire a felon.

Hiring a felon comes with various moral benefits, both for the individual felon and the felon demographic as a whole. The stigma surrounding felons is largely inflated and is an unfortunate factor in employers hiring a felon. Each felon hired by a company decreases this stigma.

In addition to this factor, the employer will also see a tangible benefit in the money that they receive through the Workplace Opportunity Tax Credit.

Hiring a felon also unfortunately comes with the potential for recidivism.

The decision to hire a felon is ultimately up to the employer’s discretion, and there are pros and cons that come with this process. Largely, hiring a felon comes with benefits, both tangible and moral, albeit with the potential for continuation of criminal behavior.






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