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October 31, 2014
4 Reasons Hiring People With Criminal Histories Is Good for Business
Coss Marte was running a 15-employee business and earning $500,000 a year by the time he was 23.
Then he went to prison.
Marte’s time in prison allowed him to reflect on his life as a drug kingpin and gave him the motivation to change. When he was released, he channeled his knowledge of business to found Coss Athletics, a “prison style” boot camp.
Marte became a successful criminal because he was good businessman. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so. People with criminal histories comprise the largest untapped talent in America, and this is good for your business.
Making Up for Lost Time
According to the NAACP, one in three black men will go to prison in their lifetime, and 2.3 million Americans are currently incarcerated. Negative stereotypes abound. The result is that 60 percent of individuals with criminal histories remain unemployed a year after their release.
Few companies seek to hire people with criminal histories despite pressure to end discriminatory hiring practices, according to Omar Cantwell, founder and CEO of 1st Chances Inc., a job-placement firm for people with criminal histories.
This is largely due to employers’ perceptions that hiring people with criminal histories will be bad for business, but that’s a mistake. And because other companies aren’t looking for these employees, you have access to the best of the best.
Here are four more reasons to hire someone with a criminal record:

1. They possess natural business skills. People who’ve spent time in prison often have skills that naturally make them good businesspeople, including:
  • Charisma. When you’re building an illegal income based on relationships, you’ve got to be likeable. Smart businesspeople aim to delight their customers and generate repeat business.
  • Willingness to take risks. Engaging in illegal behavior is risky business. Sure, it’s not wise, but being willing to take calculated risks is one of the keys to success that people often struggle with.
  • Salesmanship. Drug dealers understand their customers’ pain points and how to sell to alleviate those. And since criminal behavior rarely generates steady income, most formerly incarcerated people also understand profit margins and the bottom line.  
  • Management skills. If you want others to follow you into risky situations, you have to be influential and know how to motivate people. Lasyah Palmer, now a New York business owner, successfully coordinated 18 employees from New York to San Francisco in a jewelry heist before he went to prison.
​2. They won’t take the job for granted. It’s no secret that many companies won’t hire people with rap sheets, so when employers do give them chances, they tend to be loyal employees who go the extra mile and stick around. 

3. It’s good for everyone. Once someone out of prison lands a job with a steady income, he gains a sense of self-respect and is far less likely to return to crime. These positive benefits have a ripple effect, allowing these people to become better parents, citizens, and partners.

4. It’s low-risk. Research supports the idea that employed people with criminal histories are far less likely to return to crime. What’s more, people released from prison are typically on parole or probation, which means they’re held accountable to abstain from criminal activity and remain drug-free. Lastly, federal bonding and tax credits further offset your risk.  

Cantwell, who served 19 years on a murder charge, could have considered his life’s course pre-determined. Instead, he started a company that has already helped 18 hard-to-place people find jobs in the few months since its inception.  
His business works because he’s living proof that people’s lives don’t end the moment they’re sentenced to prison. Cantwell works closely with employers to persuade them to take chances on people with criminal histories. Is that a chance you’re willing to take?

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Catherine Hoke is the founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit serving people with criminal histories nationally. Defy Ventures “transforms street hustle” by providing entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, startup funding, career development, and job placement. The company hosts “Shark Tank”-style business plan competitions in which people compete for $100,000 in startup funding. Defy Ventures is currently enrolling its next class of entrepreneurs. To find out more about how the company can help you or someone you love, click here. 
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