Should employers be entitled to know about an applicant’s criminal record?

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You might remember Jeremy Meeks, the US felon who made international news due to his ‘hot’ mug shots.

Meeks became a hit in June 2014 after the Stockton Police Department posted the picture of him on its Facebook page, causing Meeks to become a social media sensation and thereby scoring a modelling contract. The publicity also sparked a ‘Free Jeremy Meeks’ campaign led by thousands of his adoring fans.

But last month, Meeks was convicted of weapons charges and sentenced to 27 months imprisonment. He is now working-out in prison to maintain his good looks.

However, while Meeks may have indirectly benefited from being arrested, the reality is that going to gaol doesn’t normally further a person’s career prospects. Some have called imprisonment a life sentence – regardless of the amount of time served – because the consequences follow the inmate long after they’ve done their time.

According to one study, being sent to prison can even amount to a ‘death sentence’ for some – with inmates being 12 times more likely to die within the first four weeks of release than the death rates of others in the community. Tragically, many inmates commit suicide or die from drug overdoses just after their release.

But even surviving parolees face significant challenges when it comes to integrating into society. Most have few possessions or savings, and many have no place of their own – which can make it difficult to spend valuable time with their children.

Many inmates also suffer from physical and mental health problems, and may have a hard time accessing the necessary support services.

A criminal conviction, let alone a prison sentence, can certainly be a major obstacle when it comes to applying for a job. Not surprisingly, research has shown that most employers prefer to hire people that do not have criminal records. And if people cannot find a job to support themselves, the natural consequence is that some will turn towards crime.

There are several pre-release programs that seek to counter these problems, but they rarely do enough to prepare inmates for life on the outside; especially those who are institutionalised through years or even decades of incarceration.

Associate Professor of the University of Melbourne, Stuart Kinner, has told the ABC that that more resources are needed to support newly-released inmates in their search for jobs.

His study on 1,300 Queensland inmates found that most were unemployed or homeless six months after their release, and one quarter reported actually feeling better while inside prison.

Kinner acknowledges that it is difficult to convince some people that it is worth investing in pre-release and post-release programs. But he believes that spending the money makes economic sense because such programs can go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of reoffending and associated costs – including the economic impact of the offence itself and the costs that go into arrests, court process and imprisonment.

In terms of the job application process, it has been suggested that potential employers nationwide should only be allowed to ask about criminal records that are relevant to a job’s requirements. This would prevent the situation where applicants are summarily excluded just because they answer ‘yes’ to having a criminal record. Rules about “selective disclosure” have already been implemented in the NT, but not in NSW.

Supporters of selective disclosure say it is difficult, for example, to see how a conviction for drink driving could impact upon a job that does not require driving at all; whereas it could be relevant to a job that requires a great deal of driving such as a truck driver, taxi driver or courier. Similarly, a conviction for a minor fraud offence might not be relevant to a job that has nothing to do with handling money, or monetary transactions or valuable items, whereas it could be relevant to a job that does, such as a payroll manager or bank employee.

Unfortunately, the social stigma associated with having served a sentence of imprisonment can be long-lasting and extremely damaging to a person’s prospects of gaining employment – which seems unfair if the person has ‘done their time’ and the nature of the alleged crime has no conceivable impact on their ability to perform the job.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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