Hiring people who have been in prison is very risky
Hiring and employing convicted felons presents a collision between values. One value that we cherish involves second chances. People make mistakes, even serious ones, but if they display contriteness and pay their debts, they deserve a second chance. There are other values that are in motion as well.
In the past few months, I have been hired by clients to extricate three employees who had served time in prison. Two were drug offenders and one was a violent offender. In only one instance did the employer know that he was hiring a prison inmate. The other two employees slipped in through temp agencies that failed to perform adequate background checks. That’s another blog subject.
The profile of the offender from each of these three cases was the same: at first they were ideal employees, focused on their work, highly cooperative and appreciative of their second chance. Then, they started to prey on their fellow employees, and soon became serious problems.
While in jail, there is little or nothing to occupy one’s mind. What usually happens is they find something to stimulate themselves—usually it amounts to preying on their fellow inmates. When they get into the workplace, they are initially appreciative of their opportunity to assimilate back into society—thus they are good employees for a while. Eventually, since their work rarely occupies their minds or full attention, they fall back into previous patterns, like preying on their coworkers.
In one of the cases (one of the drug offenders), the employee worked in an electrical component assembly job. He was a good employee. The owner knew of his prison history, but believed in second chances and hired him. The employee did well and even convinced the employer to help pay for tuition in an electrical engineering program. The guy was also smart. Unfortunately, old patterns soon emerged and this employee began to bully the office manager. She was a frail person emotionally and an easy target. He pushed her buttons and pulled her levers weekly, but intermittently so that it was not obvious to others. She never knew if he was going to pound on her or be nice to her. That was part of the game.
I was called because of allegations by the office manager of abuse and a hostile work environment. I was asked to assess and examine the allegations. The owner wondered if it was just office drama.
Other employees were aware of the situation. When I interviewed them, one told me that he advised this employee to “leave Betty (not real name) alone!” The response was, “I can’t, it is just too much fun!” It was far more than office drama; it was abuse and the employer had been under-reacting to for eight or ten months. Betty was an emotional mess and certainly had a case with the state Human Rights Commission against her employer for “failure to protect.”
In one of the other cases, the ex-con was a former violent offender. He was a registered welder who was referred to the employer through their temp agency. He also was a good employee for almost a year. Then on a Thursday, there was a blow up involving this employee and three co-workers. This employee, on Friday and Saturday, left the most vile, vicious and threatening voice mail messages on the answering machines of these three employees.
The bottom line is the workplace is a place of work. Anything that takes employees off line should be avoided. My advice to employers is you shouldn’t hire an employee that is going to be a distraction from that goal. If you want to operate a ministry, that’s a good thing, but if you want a happy and productive work place, don’t mix the two.