Inability to obtain occupational licensing helps prevent ex-offenders from getting jobs

Occupational licensing

A barber license is just one type of license denied to those with a criminal record by some states.

As if those leaving prison and jails don’t have enough problems finding employment, there’s one more challenge they face. An estimated total of at least one-quarter of all U.S. jobs require some type of licensing. And people with criminal records are prohibited from obtaining many of these licenses.

Not only can they not work in a vast variety of positions that require licensing, but those who have a criminal record can’t start their own businesses in the restricted occupations. And in many cases, it doesn’t even matter if the crime committed has any relevance to the type of work for which the license is required.

Occupational licensing is determined at the state level, and an estimated 32,000 laws nationwide related to occupational and business licensing include a consideration of criminal records. These laws are listed in the National Bar Association National Inventory of Collateral Causes of Conviction.

The inventory is catalogued and searchable by state, offering a list of all the applicable laws and exactly what they prohibit. It’s an excellent source for those who would like to know if they can – or cannot – pursue licensing for a particular job in a particular state.

The number and scope of the laws provide a serious impediment to those with criminal records and those in reentry trying to get back on their feet. They’re also a detriment to society, with states spending millions of dollars to pay for the cost of re-incarceration.

States with heaviest licensing burdens show highest recidivism rates

Turning Shackles into Bootstraps: Why Occupational Licensing Reform Is the Missing Piece of Criminal Justice Reform, a study done by Stephen Slivinski, senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, W.P. Carey College of Business, Arizona State University, focused on the relationship between three-year recidivism rates and occupational licensing restrictions affecting those with criminal records.

The study’s research “estimates that between 1997 and 2007 the states with the heaviest occupational licensing burdens saw an average increase in the three-year, new-crime recidivism rate of over 9%. Conversely, the states that had the lowest burdens and no such character provisions saw an average decline in that recidivism rate of nearly 2.5%.”

State laws reform licensing restrictions

Although the problem remains, several states are taking action to reform licensing laws to give those with criminal records more opportunities.

For example, last year Illinois passed HB5973 that, according to the bill, “allows the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to consider an applicant’s prior conviction or convictions, but provides that the conviction or convictions may not be the sole basis for refusing to issue a license unless the crime substantially and directly relates to the occupation for which the license is sought.”

In April, the governor of Kentucky signed SB120 into law. The bill removes automatic bans for felons seeking professional/occupational licenses and guarantees that those who are refused a license be granted a hearing.

Connecticut, another state making legal reforms, passed HB5764 into law in July. The new law removes criminal history restrictions from the licensing of barbers and hair dressers.

While these are just a few examples, they give an idea of what can and needs to be done by the states on a much broader level. Stakeholders who deal with those incarcerated and in reentry may want to organize and influence elected officials to change any existing laws requiring licenses that create barriers to employment.

By lifting restrictions to licensing for those with criminal records, those struggling to reestablish their lives after leaving prison or jail will have more opportunities to find employment and more jobs to choose from.


Root & Rebound’s Roadmap to Reentry offers legal info to those leaving prison

Roadmap to ReentryOakland, Calif.-based nonprofit Root & Rebound has published Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide. This extremely comprehensive 1,192-page guide, available in both print and electronic editions, covers all the important legal issues that those leaving prison or jail may need to know about and outlines steps they can take to deal with them.

Although Root & Rebound is a legal service provider and advocacy organization, its Roadmap was not just created for lawyers. It is also for those nearing release from prisons and jails, people already in reentry, case managers, community supervision officers, family and friends. And anyone else who would like to be better informed about the various issues and challenges faced by those attempting to get their lives back together post-incarceration.

Root & Rebound describes its Roadmap to Reentry as a legal toolkit. It does not take the place of an attorney, but rather “is a legal resource designed to provide the 50,000 people released from prison and jail across California every year with access to understandable, empowering legal information that can help them make informed choices, prepare them for the barriers they may encounter, and ultimately help them thrive and succeed in reentry.”

Guide includes examples of documents and forms

In addition to an encyclopedic amount of information, the Roadmap to Reentry guide includes examples of the types of documents and forms that many people in reentry may need to fill out. Although it is California specific, the publication also covers federal laws, so even people in other states can benefit from the guide.

Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide includes a chapter for each of the major areas of law that those in reentry may have to deal with.

Areas of law covered

  • Obtaining I.D.s and voting – covers types of IDs and how to get them, as well as voting rights and how to register to vote.
  • Parole and probation – helps readers understand various forms of supervision and how they affect the lives of those in reentry.
  • Housing – explores housing options that may be available, and offers tips on how to find and apply for a place to live.
  • Public benefits – outlines public benefits programs and their eligibility and enrollment rules, as well as the application process.
  • Employment – covers the job application and interview process, discrimination, dealing with background checks and one’s record, the hiring incentives offered to employers and alternatives to traditional work, including self-employment.
  • Court-ordered debt – explains the different types of court ordered debt, including court fines and penalties, and restitution, and how to deal with them.
  • Family and children – summarizes the steps that people in reentry must take to reconnect with their children after incarceration, as well as child support, custody and other issues that those in reentry may have to deal with.
  • Education – explores available educational options and how to choose, apply to and pay for the best one.
  • Understanding and cleaning up criminal records – describes the various types of criminal records, how to obtain copies of them and how to find and fix any errors they may contain.

Already accessed by more than 20,000 people

Thus far, more than 20,000 people have had a chance to be educated through the Roadmap to Reentry guide, 13,400 by reading the book and 7,400 by accessing the guide online. You can be one of those too.

A hard copy of Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide is available – a donation is requested to cover the cost of shipping for personal use, and a charge for organizations using it as part of their programs – by ordering online. It’s also possible to download an electronic version of the publication.

In addition to its publication, Root & Rebound has created the Roadmap to Reentry Online Training Hub that includes videos, fact sheets and other resources to help people become better informed about how to deal with legal and other barriers to reentry in California.


Oregon Youth Authority expands tattoo removal program

The doctors who volunteer at the Oregon Youth Authority's tattoo removal program are Dr. Carolyn Hale, Dr. Harold Boyd, Dr. J. Mark Roberts and Dr. Michael Wicks.

The doctors who volunteer at the Oregon Youth Authority’s tattoo removal program are Dr. Carolyn Hale, Dr. Harold Boyd, Dr. J. Mark Roberts and Dr. Michael Wicks.

Removing tattoos during incarceration is an excellent way to help those who have gang-related or anti-social tattoos begin to leave their past lives behind. Considering the effectiveness of these programs, it’s surprising that there are not more of them around, especially for youth.

Perhaps other youth correctional facilities will be inspired by the success of the Oregon Youth Authority’s tattoo removal program. Until October, the program, which has operated at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem for about 15 years, had only a single volunteer doctor – a dermatologist named Carolyn Hale – who performs the tattoo removal procedures on a weekly basis.

Hale had been volunteering her services for years, and she and the doctor who founded the program even paid for a replacement laser device when the original one wore out. She had long hoped to expand her efforts, and her wish has finally come true.

An article in the Statesman Journal, Salem’s local newspaper, last year that included an interview with Dr. Hale  brought wide publicity for the program. Last fall, soon after it was published, four volunteer doctors – three retired orthopedics surgeons and a retired family physician – a nurse and a physician assistant, came on board to volunteer. And it happened none too soon.

“We have so many youth on the waiting list. The additional support will help us serve more youth so they don’t have to wait so long for treatment,” says Griselda Solano Salinas, multicultural coordinator/tattoo removal program coordinator, who works for the Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations and organizes the program at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility.

All procedures will continue to take place at Hillcrest because it’s too difficult and complicated to move the tattoo removal laser device. Boys are brought from four facilities and girls from one. The goal, according to Solano Salinas, is to increase how often the tattoo removal clinic is offered to at least three times per month and then add more sessions as needed.

“We want to help and motivate our youth to achieve their goals by reducing pressures to return to gang or anti-social activities. Removal of these tattoos has an immediate impact on their acceptance by potential employers and society,” she says.

“During the past 18 years I have observed the benefits of tattoo removal. I see youth who participated in our program go on to enroll in school, apply for jobs, enlist in the military, and become productive, crime-free citizens.”


Dave’s Killer Bread founder’s arrest highlights challenges

logoonblackOn the night of Thursday, Nov. 13, Dave Dahl, co-founder of Dave’s Killer Bread, was arrested after ramming three Washington, Ore., County deputy patrol cars. He was released a day later on $20,000 bail, and his attorney told local Portland area press that Dahl was having a mental health crisis.

A former felon, Dahl has received wide local, as well as national, attention for the success he has achieved in recent years.

After being released from his last prison sentence – he was incarcerated four times for a total of 15 years for drug possession, assault and burglary – Dahl rejoined his family’s baking business and developed Dave’s Killer Bread.

With a tagline, “Just Say No to Bread on Drugs,” the bread has developed a near cult following in places where it is sold. These now include most major retails stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Hawaii and Nevada and select stores in Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Dahl has been an inspiration for legions of ex-offenders and those who work with them, not only because of the successful business he created but also because of his hiring practices.

His company responds

In a memo sent to employees on the day after Dave’s arrest, company CEO John Tucker wrote, “We are a passionate group who want to bake the world’s best breads, and also want to make the world a better place one loaf of bread at a time ….. This company is about courage and redemption. It is truly part of our heritage. Nearly 30% of our employees have served time in prison and today are making a better life for themselves and their families.”

Dave reportedly suffers from bouts of depression, but whether his condition is entirely personal or is the result of repercussions from his life behind bars, he’s not alone. Many ex-offenders share a similar situation, and suffer from mental issues brought on by their prison experience.

Surprising few studies have been done – or at least have been publicized – concerning the health conditions of inmates, but the National Commission on Correctional Health Care conducted a three-year national study –which as far as we know is the largest of its type ever undertaken – in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The final report, “The Health Status of Soon-to-be-released Inmates: A Report to Congress,” was delivered to Congress in May 2002 by the National Institute of Justice.

The study found that many inmates suffered mental challenges, but the actual statistics, as far as percentage of the inmate population suffering from mental illness, is not that much different than the U.S. population as a whole. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 26 percent of American adults, age 18 and over, suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder.

In state prisons, the numbers reflecting soon-to-be-released inmates are:

  • 22% to 30% suffered from anxiety disorder.
  • 13% to 19% suffered from major depression.
  • 8% to 14% suffered from dysthymia.
  • 6% to 12% had post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 2% to 5% suffered from bipolar disorder.
  • 2% to 4% suffered from schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

Although the study was conducted more than a decade ago, it would be hard to believe that the situation has improved much.

Will this incident spoil the Killer Bread brand?

While press reports have speculated that this incident could damage the Dave’s Killer Bread brand, it certainly won’t with us. We’re huge fans of both Dave and his bread. As CEO Tucker said in the memo, “We know that this team – our DKB family – has the strength and resolve to continue baking bold breads that families can be proud to buy.”

And we hope they continue their efforts not only to produce some of the most nutritious and delicious commercial bread on the market today but also to serve as a role model for helping those in reentry get employment and get back on their feet.


Is a tattoo right for you? Facing the dangers of tattooing

manThe fact that tattoo removal has been one of our most frequently read blog topics indicates that many readers may be sorry they decided to get a tattoo. And those who may be considering getting inked might want to think very carefully and weigh the consequences before doing so.

While a Harris poll of 2,016 adults surveyed online between January 16 and 23, 2012, found that only 14 percent of those who had gotten a tattoo regretted it later, it was the attitudes of people without tattoos, who were also among those interviewed, that might help sway your decision.

Here’s what they think:

  • At least two respondents out of five said that people with tattoos are less attractive (45%) or sexy (39%).
  • One-quarter said that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27%), healthy (25%) or spiritual (25%).
  • Half of those without a tattoo said that people with tattoos are more rebellious (50%).

Perhaps even more important than attitudes and regrets, however, is a range of health hazards that may be caused by tattooing.

Among the potential risks are: 

Carcinogenic toxins – Perhaps the most frightening health risk of getting tattooed is the toxins that are evident in the tattoo ink. Although some of the color additives used to make tattoo ink have been approved for use in cosmetics, none have been approved for injection into the skin. Some tattoo pigments, in fact, are industrial grade colors used in printers’ ink and automobile paint.

Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz are more specific. They say that blue ink contains cobalt and aluminum, and red ink can include cadmium and mercury sulfide. Even black ink, considered to be the safest color of all, may contain such carcinogens as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and benzo(a)prene.

Infections – While most states have regulations governing tattoo artists, many people may still get tattoos from someone unlicensed, either in a commercial business or in prison, and they might not sterilize the tools they use. The use of dirty needles can cause such infections as HIV and hepatitis.

Serious illness – In spring 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported an outbreak of infections among those who had gotten tattooed in at least four states over the previous half year. These serious illnesses were the result of contamination of the tattoo pigment by nontuberculous Micobacteria, a bacteria that can cause joint infection, lung disease, eye problems or other infections.

Allergies – Some people have reported allergic reactions to various ink pigments.

Granulomas – These small bumps can form on the site of the tattoo in reaction to the pigment inserted into the skin.

To tattoo or not to tattoo? The choice is yours, but consider the consequences. And as the FDA recommends in its public health safety campaign, “Think Before You Ink.”


San Pablo, Calif. program removes tattoos, instills job search skills

Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., makes sure a client's paperwork is in order.

Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., meets with a client.

San Pablo, Calif. is the latest city to set up a tattoo removal program.  Although small in size with a population of roughly 29,000, this San Francisco East Bay suburb has big intentions to help disenfranchised people, including many ex-offenders, find employment.

The program, Removing Barriers, is a joint venture between the 10-month-old San Pablo Economic Development Corp., the city of San Pablo and San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit New Skin Adult Tattoo Removal.

Launched four months ago with monthly four-hour tattoo removal clinics operated by New Skin, Removing Barriers has served about 60 people so far, and anyone over 18 years of age can get their tattoos removed. San Pablo residents pay $50 and nonresidents $75 for a treatment session for up to seven tattoos.

The program will be expanded this fall with job readiness training, according to Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo EDC. The job training will consist of two months of twice-weekly classes that include sessions on such things as resume writing and interview role-playing. Participants will also create a master application as part of the program, since Choy hears from employers that some people aren’t hired, because they didn’t complete applications properly. (You can find an example of a master application on the Berkeley Adult School website.) An additional four weeks will focus on money matters.

“We will concentrate on fiscal responsibility, financial management and helping people understand that there are ways to eliminate ATM and check-cashing fees,” she says. “We’re working with nonprofit Community Financial Resources, which has a curriculum dealing with this. One of the things we’d like to do for San Pablo residents who complete the curriculum is reimburse a certain amount of the fees they’ve paid for tattoo removal through a prepaid debit card.”

The Removing Barriers program has no requirements. “Participants don’t need any qualifications, just interest and commitment,” says Choy. “Anybody can come.”

The first class cohort, however, will be limited to 23 participants, but the program may be expanded to two cohorts early next year.

The San Pablo EDC also hopes to include a job-experience component in the program. It is working with the city’s public works department, Lao Family Community Development and other organizations to be able to provide one- to two-week internships. “This will give a bit of experience and a professional reference for those who haven’t been in the workforce for a substantial amount of time,” Choy says.

Funding for Removing Barriers comes from Measure Q that was passed by voters last June and went into effect in November. The measure increased the city’s sales tax one-half cent for five years and then a quarter cent for another five years. Some of the money raised goes to job training and public safety. While most of the funding for Removing Barriers will come from Measure Q, there is also some money from the EDC, and it is pursuing grants and other funding as well.

The program will be staffed by EDC and San Pablo city employees, along with a handful of volunteers, including one from Junior Achievement.

“This is a labor of love. The staff is passionate about it,” says Choy. “The opportunity to help people feel that they might be more accepted within their community (by having their tattoos removed and gaining employment) is inspiring.”


Medical study proves relaxation techniques reduce stress

thinking businessmanPeople deal with job search-related stress in various ways. Some of these ways are healthy, like exercise, getting sufficient sleep and eating a proper diet. Some are not so healthy, like an obsession with the Internet, overeating and turning to alcohol or drugs. An increasingly popular and effective way to deal with stress of any kind is practicing such relaxation techniques as meditation, yoga, deep breathing or prayer, and a recent study by researchers in Boston is just the latest to confirm the value of these techniques by studying what’s known as the relaxation response.

The research, conducted by investigators at Boston’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that when people are able produce the relaxation response – a physiologic state that alters the physical and emotional response to stress – immediate changes occur at the genetic level in their bodies.

Previous studies have documented how the relaxation response both alleviates symptoms of anxiety and many other disorders and also affects factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and brain activity. A 2008 study found that long-term practice of the relaxation response changed the expression of genes involved with the body’s response to stress. (Gene expression is a way that genes convey information that is used in the creation of certain products like proteins.)

The current study examined changes produced during a single session of relaxation response practice, as well as those taking place over longer periods of time.

Although many studies have proved that the relaxation response can reduce stress and enhance wellness, for the first time the key physiological means by which these benefits might be induced have been identified, according to Herbert Benson, MD, director-emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute. And now researchers have a better understanding of how this might work.

Effect of relaxation response

The study enrolled a group of 26 healthy adults who had no previous experience in relaxation response practice. They completed an eight-week relaxation response training course, which began by them listening to a 20-minute health education CD about relaxation. Blood tests were given before and after they listened to the CD, as well as after the training was completed.

A set of blood samples was also taken from another group of 25 participants –  people who had between four and 25 years of experience using different techniques to elicit the relaxation response – both before and after they listened to the same relaxation response CD as those going through the eight-week program.

The blood samples revealed significant changes in gene expression, or the way several important groups of genes conveyed information, between the initial samples and those taken after the training was completed. Pathways controlled by the activation of a protein called NF-κB – known to have a prominent role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer – were suppressed in the bodies of the participants after they were able to produce the relaxation response they learned in the training program.

While this and other research helps doctors and scientists better understand exactly what impact relaxation techniques have on the body, it’s just a beginning. The same researchers who conducted this study are expanding their efforts to examine how the changes induced by mind/body interventions affect pathways involved in such diseases as hypertension and inflammatory bowel disease.


For more information, visit the Massachusetts General Hospital’s website at

For more information about the benefits of meditation see Action Plan, Meditation Why Bother?: A Taste of Mindfulness Meditation at

Many hospitals, doctors, social workers and others across the U.S., including Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, teach classes in mindfulness based stress reduction that focuses on meditation and relaxation. The courses are based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor-emeritus of medicine and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts. You can find a program in your area by visiting

For online meditation instructions and places to learn and practice from a Buddhist perspective check out


Resilience training can help improve well being, job search

Healthy concept, Spirit, Body and MindThrough recent research on the brain and how it functions, scientists have discovered many things that were unknown even a decade ago, information that can help heal those, like many ex-offenders, who have gone through traumatic experiences.

Although many people associate PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder with soldiers returning from places like Iraq or Afghanistan, this condition plagues many ex-offenders trying to deal with a terrible experience in prison or jail or haunted by actions that put them there in the first place.

One form of healing, the Community Resilience Model, has helped many individuals who suffered through the Haitian earthquake or were victims of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. And it can help anyone who has been through trauma, stress or distress of just about any type.

When someone goes through a traumatic experience, their nervous system is thrown off balance, and learning CRM techniques can help those people bring their body, mind and spirit back into balance.

Basically, everyone has a Resilient Zone where we are emotionally balanced and can think clearly and manage things well. Stressful or traumatic experiences tend to force us out of that zone, and the ability to deal with even minor stressful events may become very difficult.

Through applying CRM skills you can learn what resilience feels like, and work to restore the natural balance that was lost and feel better. CRM teaches people how to understand their nervous system and track sensations that are signs of resiliency.

Scientific research has proven that the brain can be trained to respond in ways that you would like it to, but it takes work and practice. This research has uncovered solid evidence that the birth of brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis, occurs in adults as well as children, and these changes can continue into old age. This process creates opportunities for applying CRM to rewire the brain to deepen one’s Resilient Zone, offering higher tolerance for a wide range of stressors.

Here are some of the skills that are taught by practitioners of the CRM model:

Tracking — This means becoming aware of the sensations in your body. You learn to distinguish amongst pleasant, neutral and unpleasant sensations, concentrating on the pleasant ones, so you can use them to strengthen your Resilient Zone. As you learn to describe and notice these sensations, you will have a better understanding of what your Resilient Zone is all about.

Grounding – This is another CRM skill that helps you focus on being in the present moment, when you are in contact with the ground or something that supports you, like a chair, bed or sofa. While grounded, pay attention to the pleasant or neutral sensations you are feeling, so that when there are unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations you can refocus your attention on parts of your body that feel better.

Resourcing – There are two types of resources you can rely on to help your nervous system get back in balance. External resources are positive things in your life – friends, places, pets, hobbies or whatever. Internal resources could be things you like about yourself, such as friendliness, consideration and intelligence, or beliefs and experiences that are important to you. Once you decide what your resources are, you can begin to track the sensations you feel when you think about any of them.

These wellness skills will give you a better idea of what social resilience is all about. You can learn how to apply some of them on you own by using iChill, a free app available for iPhone and Android smartphones and computers using Windows and Mac operating systems. This app can be downloaded by visiting

For self-help skills in both English and Spanish check out:

For referrals to practitioners and training programs visit:

Efforts to “ban the box” continue

If Assembly Bill 1831 passes the California State Assembly, it will become the latest victory in a nationwide effort to “ban the box.” The “box” refers to the place on job applications which asks applicants to state their criminal history information.

The bill, sponsored by California State Assembly member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) and currently in committee, states that a California city or county or a city or county agency may not ask an applicant’s criminal history on the original application form. Once the government or local agency determines that the applicant meets the qualifications for the job, however, they can consider an applicant’s criminal history, At that point the applicant has made it past the original screening and has a better chance of being considered for the position.

This act would help remove some of the barriers to employment for the one in four adult Californians who have been arrested or convicted. It follows the action of the California State Personnel Board, which, in June 2010 under Governor Schwarzenegger, removed “the box” from the application form for California state jobs.

California’s action will put it at the forefront of a bi-partisan movement across the nation to begin to remove the barriers keeping ex-offenders from becoming employed and, in the end, help reduce recidivism rates.

California has joined five other states in these efforts to delay inquiries into an individual’s criminal record during the employment application process. In Connecticut and New Mexico, the inquiry delay applies to state personnel and licensing; and in Minnesota it applies to all public employment. Hawaii and Massachusetts have taken the most progressive steps; in those states, the delay applies to all public and private employment.

In addition to the California State Personnel Board, several California cities and counties have also instituted measures to delay inquiry. These are Alameda County, San Francisco County and the cities of Berkeley, East Palo Alto, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, Compton and San Diego.

More than 30 cities and counties in other parts of the U.S. that have adopted fair hiring policies include New York City; Austin, Tex.; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Jacksonville, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis; New Haven, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; Philadelphia, Penn.; St. Paul, Minn.; Seattle; and Worcester, Mass.

Banning the box is not only the equitable thing to do, but it will offer employers a wider pool of qualified applicants. In the February 2012 issue of HR Magazine, Mark Washington, human resources director for the city of Austin, Texas, said that since the city adopted a policy to delay inquiry into applicants’ criminal histories, more qualified candidates with criminal backgrounds – candidates who previously may have opted against completing the application due to the background questions – have applied. “There are extremely talented and qualified people who happen to be ex-offenders,” Washington said. “They are just as productive as people who do not have criminal records.”


Challenges facing job seekers

Hidden barriers to employment are rampant, especially for those in reentry. By their very nature these barriers may not be obvious, but they must be overcome if the job seeker is going to be successful.

Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, gave participants at the 2011 Workforce Development Summit in San Jose, Calif. in November advice on just how to do it. But it’s far from easy, as many job developers and counselors know quite well.

Many people face barriers to employment that they don’t want to talk about. One out of three people have criminal records, for example, Robbin says. Ex-offenders may have other barriers as well, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), illiteracy, or problems resulting from domestic or gang violence.

Why are these barriers to employment hidden? Because a lot of shame exists around the barrier, people are trained to hide them. And sometimes they don’t even know these barriers exist.

“The barrier may be so common in their world that they don’t see it as a barrier,” Robbin says. “If someone lives in an area where substance abuse is rampant or illiteracy is high, they might think that’s the norm.”

“Also, you’ll find that people with AIDs or criminal histories are afraid to disclose them, because they’re afraid they’ll be treated differently.”

You have to look at these barriers not just as barriers to employment but as barriers to retention and advancement once they get the job.

Here are some of the most common examples:

  • PTSD. Although one always associates post-traumatic stress disorder with soldiers returning from battle, homeless people test at three times the level of PTSD that combat veterans have. About 75 percent of the incoming freshman class at Compton High in L.A. has PTSD because of all the killings they’ve seen.
  • Relationship control and domestic violence. This can be either from gangs or dating. We should ask job seekers “How do you make decisions?” Is there someone you turn to make decisions and is that healthy, or is someone trying to control that? Once you know the situation you can work with them.
  • Traumatic brain injury. One in four returning vets have this. Babies and kids who have experienced shaken baby syndrome also may have this condition, which can produce memory loss and reading issues.
  • Unsafe or unstable living situations. People couch surfing or doing a lot of partying may have trouble in interviews, because they’re not sleeping well.
  • Fear of leaving income support systems (welfare). One way to get over this barrier is to bring in role models who’ve left welfare and been successful.
  • Drug and or alcohol problems. Heavy alcohol or drug use can result in memory loss.
  • Fear of the world of work. This is a huge hidden barrier. In the fast food industry, 43% of people don’t show up for their first day of work after being hired. In all jobs across the board, 25% of new employees don’t show up.
  • Criminal history. This will be handled in different ways depending on the type of crime committed.
  • Literacy problems. People who are illiterate or semi-literate have special problems that must be dealt with.

Now that hidden barriers have been defined, in our next blog entry we’ll talk about how to deal with them.