IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ex-offenders face tremendous barriers to employment, according to results of a recent survey by economic development policy students at the University of Iowa.
The percentage of Eastern Iowa businesses that automatically disqualify ex-offenders ranges from 25 percent for DUI to 80 percent for a violent crime, the survey found.
“An employer’s aversion attenuates over time,” said Brenda Dodge, Operations Director of the Iowa City Workforce Center - IowaWorks. “Many more companies will hire a person released from prison ten years ago than the number willing to hire a person released within the last year. Unfortunately, the recidivism rate to prison is very high, especially within the first three years. This means that the job of the newly released ex-offender is to be focused on gaining some type of employment. It is difficult but not impossible. Employers are looking for accountable and skilled employees and this can be learned and honed within the prison walls,” she said.
IowaWorks mailed invitations to participate in the online survey to five percent of the business establishments randomly selected from the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area and seventy employers completed the survey. In addition to gauging the attitudes and barriers toward hiring ex-offenders, the 32-question survey asked participants whether interventions can increase their willingness to hire a person with a record of felony conviction.
Forty-seven companies indicated they would value references from a job club when making hiring decisions. Only 13 business establishments responded that a job club reference would not affect their willingness to hire a qualified applicant. Two employers indicated that the reference would significantly increase their willingness.
Job clubs assist job seekers with encouragement, opportunities to practice interviewing skills, feedback and the networks necessary to improve their chances of success in the job market.
“The barriers to employment are daunting for a person with a criminal past,” said Richard Funderburg, assistant professor of urban and regional planning at UI who teaches economic development policy.
The University of Iowa, IowaWorks and the prison system plan to continue to partner to educate, train and employ former inmates.