Mitigating screening bias on underserved communities: Key takeaways from a Neeyamo 'Rise Above' 2020 panel discussion

As communities across the country have been enmeshed in public demonstrations focused on social justice and equality, the issue of racial bias in in the criminal justice system is especially germane. Both the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) and Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) have reported that over 96% of U.S. companies conduct criminal record checks and this process in many cases is instrumental in employers hiring decisions.

HR solutions provider Neeyamo invited Appriss Insights to be part of a panel discussion at its Rise Above Global HR Evolution Summit this week to help CRAs and hiring professionals better understand and address this significant challenge.

Here are some key takeaways offered by the expert panel:

Barry Nixon — Publisher of PreemploymentDirectory.com, The Background Buzz, and other industry publications

Many people believe that criminal justice system data is highly accurate and simply reports the facts as they are. This is far from the truth and there is overwhelming evidence that a great deal of the criminal justice system data is tainted because it starts with when a person is engaged by a law enforcement officer. People of color are arrested at a rate considerably higher than their white counterparts and once a record is created it can be extremely difficult to cleanse it from the myriad and hodgepodge of records that too often find their way into reports given to employers.

The same issue exists for convictions and even when a record has been approved for expungement by the court, getting the information completely out of all the various records files and databases is a herculean task. This leaves CRAs who gather and report the data and HR hiring professionals in a very troubling position.

Krisy Bucher — Director of Marketing Programs, Appriss Insights

National criminal records are an output of the U.S. criminal justice system, a system that has unfortunately been overly punitive to underserved populations, in particular black men. As the result of racial profiling and discriminatory policies, people of color, especially black males, are far more likely to have arrest and conviction records than whites. Blacks make up 13% of the population, but they account for 28% of all arrests and 40% of incarcerations. Blacks are not only more likely to be arrested, but they are also more likely to be convicted of crimes. Black males are incarcerated at almost six times the rate of white males.

Re-entering society after life in prison is extremely difficult. Formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of about 27%. This is well above the U.S. unemployment rate at any point in history. The perpetual stigma of incarceration creates a counterproductive system of release and poverty, hurting the formerly incarcerated, employers, taxpayers, and society as a whole. The human and financial costs are staggering. Mass incarceration is estimated to cost the U.S. over $180 billion a year.

Lester Rosen — Founder and CEO, ESR Check

Not only is employment the most effective tool to break the cycle of recidivism, but ex-offenders are an overlooked pool of labor, and from studies we know they are a very hardworking and loyal workforce with low turnover. That’s why we need comprehensive fair chance hiring laws that go beyond the initial application, and impact such things as which criminal records can be considered, when a background check can be run, what type of notices a candidate receives, and other protections and procedures.

If an employer decides not to hire someone based on a criminal record, the final act and the process we all need to make sure we are doing, is to provide an individualized assessment, part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Guidance on the use of criminal records.

That means before denying a job opportunity due to a criminal record, the applicant is given the chance to tell you either facts about the crime or themselves that would bear upon the job, so that they are being evaluated as an individual as opposed to being a person with a criminal record. I would suggest you make sure you are working with your screening firm, HR advisor, and corporate counsel to ensure you are in compliance with these rules on the use of criminal records on the local, state and federal level.

Rachel Theisen — COO, InCheck

I have begun to take steps to understand how I can be a more inclusive leader, how I can drive my organization in a direction of more inclusive hiring practices. With the help of thought leaders and industry experts, such as Barry Nixon and my fellow panelists, I’ve also begun to explore how consumer reporting agencies can help employers mitigate screening bias for underserved populations – specifically bias against people of color.

In the sake of being true partners to our clients, CRAs have an obligation to educate clients on FCRA, ban the box, fair chance hiring, adverse action, and individualized assessments. We must support our clients in their goals to mitigate screening bias. By recognizing the disparities in our criminal justice system, employers can make more informed decisions regarding their hiring practices, specifically their screening policies, to help mitigate bias and reduce barriers to employment.

A recording of the panel discussion is now available. Use promo code POPXRA2020 for free access to this and other sessions.

Appriss Insights Team

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