Your Next Best Hire May Have Spent Time In Prison
Entrepreneurship

Your Next Best Hire May Have Spent Time in Prison

Former Obama White House adviser and activist Van Jones (l) and Koch Industries' Mark Holden at the Bipartisan Summit on Fair Justice

In an interview with Black Enterprise  Chief Content Officer Derek T. Dingle, Holden discussed the growing criminal justice reform movement and mission to give ex-offenders a fair chance to re-integrate into society. The following are edited excerpts:

Dingle: Why do you view Ban the Box as such a vital issue?

Holden: Ban the Box, specifically, and criminal justice reform issues generally impact all of us. One in 3 adults in this country has some type of criminal record. Even if you aren’t impacted, someone you know is. The point is, if you make a mistake early in life and it’s a felony, when you get out of prison there are 46,000 collateral consequences or burdens that could be imposed on you in different jurisdictions because of your record. What happens is, they get out of prison [and] can’t get a student loan, a business loan, a business license. They can’t get public assistance. A lot of times it’s tough to find any type of really good-paying job.

That’s why the Ban the Box issue is so important. If you’ve seen [a job] application, there’s a box that a lot of companies have and the federal government has. It says ‘If you have a conviction, please check here.’ We know it’s kind of a red flag for a lot of people regardless of if they think of giving someone a second chance. You don’t want to be judged for the rest of your life for what happened on your worst day.

You still conduct background checks though.

We do background checks at the time we make a conditional hiring. The EEOC guidance is that you can consider someone’s prior conviction when making a hiring decision, but you need to be open-minded about it. You need to look at the conviction, how long ago it was, and the role that this person is seeking in the company to see if it’s a match or not.

Looking at it from our perspective as an employer, we’ve got 100,000 employees in all 50 states and 46 different countries. If we won’t even consider anyone who was ever convicted of something, then that’s short-sighted on our part. We want the best people and that could be someone who made a mistake a long time ago – or a few years ago – and is turning their life around.

Some companies are concerned about potential liabilities regarding hiring ex-offenders.

One of the ideas [from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers] is to have, basically, some immunity for corporations willing to hire people, even if they have a violent felony in their past. And if something happens, they won’t be held liable as long as they exercise reasonable due diligence.

With growing bipartisan support for overall criminal justice reform, is Koch Industries supportive of the president’s plan?

We’re very supportive of what the president is doing and what he’s done with the commutations thus far. We’d like to see more of it.

The legislation in the House right now seems to be moving. We’re in favor of the SAFE Justice Act because it’s comprehensive. At the end of the day, everything we do in the criminal justice system needs to enhance public safety. It needs to be consistent with the bill of rights and our individual liberties. Really importantly, we treat everybody in the system with dignity and respect as an individual. That includes the accused, the victims, law enforcement, the convicted, the incarcerated, those who are returning home, and their families. If you’re going to continue to treat them with a ‘scarlet F’ for felon, then really we’ve got no hope for them or us. We’re just going to spend and waste more money and devastate more communities.

You support the federal government’s response to having its contractors embrace Ban the Box. Does Koch require its suppliers to do the same?

Not necessarily. They’re separate companies. We’ll talk to them about those issues but we don’t want to be dictating – much like we don’t think the government should dictate certain hiring practices.

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