Oct 25, 2022 - Business

Arizona advocates push for hiring more people with felony convictions

Illustration of a "help wanted" sign as an open door

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Arouet, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to helping people with criminal records find jobs, hosted the Fair Chance Employment Symposium at the Arizona Biltmore on Friday.

  • The organization urges businesses to hire people with felony convictions.

Why it matters: Private sector hiring policies and government policies can make it difficult for people with records to get jobs.

  • About 450,000 Arizonans have felony convictions and about 100,000 have spent time in prison, Felicity Rose, the director of research and policy at the criminal justice reform organization FWD.us told the symposium.
  • Jeff Korzenik, an investment strategist and prominent advocate of second-chance hiring, said 19 million Americans have felony convictions, fewer than half of whom have served time in prison.

State of play: Korzenik, the keynote speaker, said discussions about second-chance employment usually focus on the effect that employment has in rehabilitation, the dignity of work and people's ability to care for their families. Though he believes in all of those things, his focus is on economics, he said.

  • He said employing people with criminal records can help businesses cope with the ongoing labor shortage.
  • Due to declining fertility rates and political polarization over immigration, Korzenik said, he expects the labor shortage to continue even if the economy worsens and unemployment increases.

What they're saying: "We in the business community control who we hire and how we hire. And we can reach into populations that have been overlooked and offer them employment. And this is not an act of charity. It's just good business. It's how you react to a tight labor market," Korzenik said.

  • He praised Kroger and J.P. Morgan as major employers that are committed to hiring people who have been in the criminal justice system.

1 big opportunity: Korzenik and Rose both emphasized that second-chance hiring is about giving people opportunities to advance careers and move up in the companies that hire them.

Context: Rose said changing the language that people use to describe someone who has been incarcerated or convicted of felonies goes a long way toward shaping attitudes about their trustworthiness.

  • Using terms like "felon," "inmate," "ex-con" and "offenders" foster prejudice and hostility.

Zoom out: The symposium largely focused on hiring practices at businesses, but the speakers said there are government policies that can help people find work.

  • For example a 2021 Arizona law that goes into effect on Jan. 1 allows people to have some records sealed.
  • Eliminating licensing restrictions and opening government jobs to people who have been convicted of felonies are also tools.

Yes, but: Korzenik said "ban the box" policies that prohibit questions about felony convictions on job applications have mixed results because employers can use such "avoidance strategies" as disregarding applicants from certain areas or flagging people with gaps in their employment histories.

The bottom line: In addition to Arouet, there are resources available for people with criminal records who are looking for work.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Phoenix.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Phoenix stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Phoenix.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more