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Do Ex-Offenders Deserve a Second Chance When it Comes to a Job?

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MARION, Iowa- Most people would agree anyone who makes a mistake in life deserves a second chance. But does that hold true for someone with a criminal history who wants a better job?

Employment can be one of the biggest obstacles for anyone with a criminal history. In the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, 18 percent of those on parole, probation or work release are unemployed. And statistics show ex-offenders without a job are three times more likely to commit new crimes and wind up back in prison.

Ed Hatcher moved to Iowa from Chicago 20 years ago to get a break from a life revolving around drugs and property crimes. It worked for a while and he now lives in Marion. But Hatcher admits he made one big mistake in a domestic situation. He served two years in prison for Assault with Intent. That lowest-level class D felony conviction from the mid 1990's haunts his job prospects to this very day.

"There's no chance of getting a management position with any company if you have any felony charges on your record no matter when it is," Hatcher said.

Hatcher said he could get jobs in fast food over the years and even made it up to assistant manager at one restaurant. But he wanted more and in 2012 earned an associate degree from a community college in business administration. He's also studying for another AA degree. But Hatcher said a lot of potential employers just can't get by his part criminal mistakes to look at what he could offer now.

He gave one recent example. Hatcher said he landed a job at a new company, gave notice to his old employer and showed up for work. He found his new company hadn't done the background check yet. When they did, they found the criminal history and told him he couldn't stay.

"They talked to the legal department and said they couldn't keep me and so they paid me for the week but they couldn't keep me on and had to let me go. I ended up without a job for a month because I couldn't go back to my previous job," he said.

Melanie Steffans, with the 6th Judicial District Department of Corrections, said Hatcher's experience actually isn't that unique.

"Many times employers do background checks and immediately a person is taken out of the job pool because they have a criminal record—even though many are skilled with things to offer an employer. But often that's not looked at ," Steffan said.

Mark Priborsky, branch managers at QPS Employment Group, said companies have different rules when it comes to hiring those with a criminal record. He works with more than 30 companies on entry level positions and says the rules vary. At one time, it was sort of a rule of thumb that it took seven years to erase a felony from a job application and three years for misdemeanors. But Pribotsky said that's no more than a guideline and when times are tough, companies become more selective.

"If you have a rap sheet, that's very long it's a behavioral thing. If you're causing problem after problem every six months—a little thing here, little thing there that's something they look at as well," Priborsky said.

Hatcher admits aside from the felony in the 1990's, he's also had some disorderly conduct and other misdemeanor convictions in more recent years. Still, he said at one interview a potential employer showed him his criminal history going back more than 30 years.

"When I turned the pages I thought holy moly, I didn't think anybody went back that far."

Hatcher said he's really left with one question after his recent job hunting problems. How long does it take to wipe the record clean and get a second chance?

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