Testimony from:
Sarah Anderson, Associate Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties, R Street Institute

R Street Testimony in Support of HB 1215 “Relating to consideration of criminal history of applicants for public employment”

April 18, 2023

Texas House State Affairs Committee

Chairman Hunter and members of the committee,

My name is Sarah Anderson, and I am the associate director of criminal justice and civil liberties at the R Street Institute, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas, including criminal justice reform, and that is why HB 1215 is of special interest to us.[1]

Simply put, HB 1215 would delay inquiries into the criminal history of job applicants for public sector jobs in Texas until the conditional offer stage, at which point the public employer may obtain criminal history information before choosing to hire an applicant. This policy would apply to public sector jobs only, ensuring that the government is not overstepping into the matters of the private sector, and is simply setting an example of best practices that the private sector may adopt as they see fit.

Aptly called “fair chance hiring,” this policy allows applicants to get a foot into the door of employment and makes their case for suitability to the job, before having judgment passed on them for a poor decision or misstep in their past. Evidence shows that having a record reduces employer callback rates by 50 percent, contributing to the dramatically higher unemployment rates of those with records.[2] This is a direct threat to public safety because the inability to support a law-abiding living after incarceration often pushes individuals back into crime as a means of earning money or otherwise providing for themselves and their families.[3] In fact, research shows that those released from prison who are unemployed a year after release have almost three times the likelihood of re-incarceration than those who are employed at over $10 per hour.[4]

According to the American Bar Association the unemployment rate among individuals released from jail or prison is 60 percent one year after release.[5] The U.S. Chamber of Commerce further illuminates this picture, placing that number at 27 percent beyond the first year.[6] When we know that 95 percent of individuals currently incarcerated will be returning home to our communities—unavoidably with criminal records—it is necessary to ensure to the best of our ability that these individuals are able to succeed.[7] Unfortunately, this is not the current reality for most individuals with criminal records.

It is widely acknowledged that attaining and maintaining suitable employment is a key predictor of an individual’s likelihood of success in society and that it dramatically reduces the likelihood of recidivism. Unfortunately, for the one in every three Americans—and approximately one in every five Texans—who have a criminal record, no matter their level of rehabilitation and ability to contribute, many of these individuals are shut out of the best employment opportunities.[8] By following the suit of the federal government, 37 states and more than 150 localities nationwide, Texas has the opportunity to dramatically improve reentry for those with criminal records by implementing fair chance hiring practices in its own public sector.[9]

While there is certainly much to be said for the need to hold offenders accountable for their actions, a sentence should only last as long as necessary to protect public safety, administer justice, and encourage an offender’s rehabilitation. However, the reality stands that too often, regardless of the crime and imposed sentence, the effects of a criminal record make actual “time served” in many cases feel like a punishment for life. Fortunately, Texas can continue its leadership on smart public safety initiatives as it has been doing for years, and set an example for the private sector that employing those with criminal records is ultimately good for public safety and for the economy. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to support HB 1215.

Thank you,

Sarah Anderson
Associate Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties
R Street Institute
[email protected]

[1] HB 1215, “Establishes provisions relating to expungement,” Texas House of Representatives, Legislative Session 88(R). https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=88R&Bill=HB1215.

[2] Lucius Couloute and Daniel Kopf, “Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people,” Prison Policy Initiative, July 2018. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/outofwork.html.

[3] Christi M. Smith, “The Pathway to Prosperity: How Clean Slate Legislation Enhances Public Safety and Stimulates the Economy,” R Street Institute, March 2023. “https://www.rstreet.org/research/the-pathway-to-prosperity-how-clean-slate-legislation-enhances-public-safety-and-stimulates-the-economy.

[4] Christy Visher, et al., “Employment After Prison: A Longitudinal Study of Releasees in Three States,” The Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, October 2008. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32106/411778-Employment-after-Prison-A-Longitudinal-Study-of-Releasees-in-Three-States.PDF.

[5] American Bar Association, “Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions: Judicial Bench Book,” Office of Justice Programs, March 2018. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/251583.pdf.

[6] “The Business Case for Criminal Justice Reform: Second Chance Hiring,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Aug. 18, 2021. https://www.uschamber.com/workforce/education/the-business-case-criminal-justice-reform-second-chance-hiring.

[7] Office of Minority Health, “Reentry Resources,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, last accessed March 27, 2023. https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=10326#:~:text=Nearly%20everyone%20who%20goes%20to,reentry%20and%20reintegration%20are%20not.

[8] “Americans with Criminal Records,” The Sentencing Project, August 2022. https://www.sentencingproject.org/app/uploads/2022/08/Americans-with-Criminal-Records-Poverty-and-Opportunity-Profile.pdf.

Helen Gaebler, “Criminal Records in the Digital Age: A Review of Current Practices and Recommendations for Reform in Texas,” William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at the University of Texas School of Law, March 2013. https://law.utexas.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/Criminal-Records-in-the-Digital-Age-Report-by-Helen-Gaebler.pdf.

[9] Beth Avery and Han Lu, “Ban the Box: U.S. Cities, Counties, and States Adopt Fair Hiring Policies,” National Employment Law Project, October 2021. https://www.nelp.org/publication/ban-the-box-fair-chance-hiring-state-and-local-guide.