There are a number of good reasons to employ former federal prisoners.  The reasons for, and programs available to employers who, employ former federal prisoners are examined on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website at www.bop.gov/inmate_programs/itb_employing_ex_offenders.jsp, through their “Employing Ex-Offenders” web page.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, “Work opportunities provide hope and a chance for achieving success to newly released Federal ex-offenders.  Employers are encouraged to participate in creating opportunities to help individuals become law-abiding, productive citizens.  Many ex-offenders are willing to start in minimum wage jobs that offer a future.”  Discussions with federal prisoners indicate that most federal prisoners would be open to such lower-level employment as long as the job provided a sustainable wage which allowed for advancement opportunities.  But the real story here has to do with the hidden benefits of hiring former federal prisoners.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website divides benefits areas into two categories:

Service to the Public: By providing work opportunities, employers enable ex-offenders to become tax-paying citizens who contribute to the community, and give them a chance to share in the American dream.

Skilled Employees: Most ex-offenders have completed programs designed to help them develop the skills needed to achieve success in the ‘world of work.’  Many have had employment and training in Federal Prison Industries (tradename: UNICOR), and/or in vocational and occupational training programs.  Some have valuable skills and can fill jobs for which skilled workers are hard to find.

Beyond the skill-related and altruistic reasons to hire ex-offenders formerly incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are also bonding programs and tax credit programs available to employers who hire ex-offenders.  These programs help protect those who employ former federal prisoners from the loss at the hands of the employed ex-offender and, in some circumstances, can even result in tax credits for doing so.

The federal government extends the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to employers who are willing to hire ex-offenders.  This tax credit, which can amount to several hundred to a thousand dollars for each ex-offender employed, can most certainly make a difference in this time of economic crisis.  And this is just for hiring someone with a criminal record, nothing more.

On-the-job loss protections are usually provided in the form of fidelity bonds.  According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, there are three types of bonding programs which former federal prisoners can possibly qualify for:

UNICOR’s Federal Bonding Program: All former incarcerated UNICOR workers who worked in the UNICOR work detail for a period of time qualify for federal bonding through Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (the parent company of UNICOR).

U.S. Department of Labor Federal Bonding Program: Through the Federal Bonding Program — which is administered through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration — ex-offenders without UNICOR experience may qualify for bonding.  This form of bonding is fulfilled through each state’s Department of Labor (see the BOP’s Directory of State Coordinators for more information concerning these bonding programs and eligibility requirements).

State Fidelity Bonds: Fidelity bonds are offered, in some states, to employers who hire those with criminal convictions.  Due to the varied nature and regulations of these fidelity bonds, employers must contact their state’s employment service in order to learn more about offerings, coverings, and eligibility requirements (see the BOP’s Directory of State Coordinators for more information).

Hiring ex-offenders is never an easy choice due to the stigma attached to those with criminal convictions.  But with higher ideals in mind, a federal or state bonding service, and even tax credits to promote this sort of pro-social activity, employers can help step in and hire ex-offenders, thus improving not only the individual’s lot in life but our nation as a whole, too.  Through these federal bonding programs and the federal tax credit opportunity, hiring an ex-offender today can be the right business decision for tomorrow.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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