Felons In The Workforce

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Felons In The Workforce

In 2010 it is estimated that 19.8 million people representing 8.6% of the population of the United States have a felony conviction.  This is almost double what it was in 1980. Within some minority populations those possessing a felony conviction exceeds 25%.*

What is an employer to do?  Can you have a policy where by no felons will be hired, no felons will be allowed to rent and apartment, no felons will be allowed a professional license.   Are we down to NFNA signs! (No Felon Need Apply)**.

As I write this as I have seen several very good people end up with felony convictions under dubious or stupid circumstances.


A woman was driving and lost control of her car which ended up crashing in the desert outside of Tucson, Arizona.  In the crash she took out three saguaro cacti.  She was charged with three felonies for cutting down a protected species.  She received a single felony conviction and suspended sentence.  The felony conviction caused her to lose her realtor’s and her insurance sales licenses.

A man received a sample of 3 grams of elemental sodium metal via the US Post office. (A dollar bill weighs one gram to give you an idea of the amount.) Under certain conditions, if exposed to water, and near and ignition source, sodium can produce an explosive chemical reaction. After receiving the shipment he sent an email to the seller giving them all sorts of heck for sending it by USPS.  He then self reported the illegal shipment to the USPS.  When asked why he took delivery, he responded: “The sodium is much safer in my control than bouncing around the back of USPS truck.” This man received a felony conviction, spent 60 days in jail and lost his chemical supply business.  The conviction was based upon the fact that he knowingly received such an illegal shipment.

A man in California attended a bachelor’s party.  He knew he had too much to drink.  Unable to secure a hotel room, he went to his car to sleep of the booze.  The hotel security guard reported to the police the drunk in the parking lot.  The police came, woke him up, and tested him for liquor.   Since he had his keys on him, he was charge with aggravated DUI – a felony charge.   After spending over fifty thousand dollars in legal fees – he was convicted of a felony DUI.  He lost his civil engineer’s license, as well and his hydrological engineer’s license.  One year later – despite have nothing to drink since that evening his wife left him over money issues.

There is a massive overreach in law and in punishment.  I doubt that any person can go through a given day without breaking scores of laws.  All of the laws you are breaking are without intent. It does not matter that you don’t intend to break the law.  If you are caught and charged – expect to spend tens of thousands defending yourself.  If you are convicted – understand that any jail time or fines are just the beginning.  As a felon the punishment will never end – never!***

Now, we can assume that on average 8.6% of the workforce are felons.  This percentage jumps dramatically in the minority black or Hispanic groups.   What are you to do?  Do you keep the NFNA rules in place or do you dare to think for yourself?

This is issue that Human Resource departments and hiring managers need to think about – at a minimum.


Sarah Shannon, Christopher Uggen, Melissa Thompson, Jason Schnittker, and Michael Massoglia.

** There used to be signs on the front of the stores in Chicago with four simple letters NINA (No Irish Need Apply – also stood for No Italian Need Apply)

*** Do read Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, by Harvey Silvergate if you want to know more about this.

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