A Case for Giving Ex-Offenders a Second Chance

Hiring ex-offenders can benefit the individual, the organization and the community, speakers say


As HR professionals struggle to find talented candidates to fill vacancies in their organizations, they should consider hiring through programs like HOPE for Prisoners—a nonprofit organization in Las Vegas that helps criminal offenders re-enter the workforce and their communities.

"The program is grounded in the belief that with the proper assistance, ex-offenders returning to the community can overcome the many barriers to successful living that the incarceration experience can create," according the organization's website.

Businesses hire people with disabilities, older workers and job candidates from many different backgrounds because it's the right thing to do, said Arte Nathan, former chief human resources officer for Steve Wynn's gaming companies in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Mississippi and China.

Photos From SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition
2017 Annual Conference & Exposition
· News: Full #SHRM17 Coverage
· Photos: Live From New Orleans
· Newsletters: Stay Informed with SHRM

Nathan says hiring ex-offenders is also the right thing to do. "When unemployment is low, who are you going to hire? Are you going to tell your boss you can't find any good applicants?" he said, speaking at the SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition in New Orleans.

"I believe in hiring ex-offenders because it works for HR," Nathan said. "But it also works to save families and to rehabilitate people who decide they want to get back on track."

He told the story of hiring Jeff Henderson, an ex-offender who once ran a $35 million cocaine operation. After Henderson was incarcerated, he started cooking in the prison kitchen, and he turned that skill set into a culinary career when he was released. 

Nathan hired Henderson in a Las Vegas kitchen. Henderson took the entrepreneurial skills he had once used for an illegal operation and put them to good work. In 2005, he became the executive chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas and later wrote the book Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove (William Morrow, 2008).

Total Training Program

Nathan said that he has hired 490 ex-offenders and that the HOPE for Prisoners program has placed almost 1,500 people in the last four years. He noted that no one who was hired through the program has been fired for theft, fighting or attendance problems.

Captain Roxanne Burke of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said HOPE for Prisoners is a total training program—participants don't just learn data entry skills or how to be a cook.

"When you hire an ex-offender through our program, you should know we are teaching them how to be great people," she said. "When was the last time you taught your employees how to take care of themselves and how to be the best people they can be every day?"

Some people go to prison and return to their old ways when they are released, Nathan said. But other people—from the moment they start their sentence—do everything they can to learn how to stay out of jail when they are released. "Those are the people you want to hire," he said. "Helping people to learn and grow is a great thing."

HOPE for Prisoners is in Las Vegas, but there are CareerOneStop locations throughout the country sponsored by the Department of Labor that can help businesses that want to hire ex-offenders, Nathan noted.

A business may not want to hire someone with a theft record as a housekeeper in hotel rooms, but a job as a kitchen worker may be a good fit, he said. "Give people a chance to prove themselves, and they can slowly move up if they do a good job."

If people serve their time, earn the right to get out and want a second chance, not giving it to them is the ultimate crime, Nathan added. "HR professionals know better than anyone how important it is to give people a chance."

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

When Was Your Handbook Last Updated?

Let our Employee Handbook Builder assist you. It includes legally binding policies and the most up-to-date state and federal requirements.

Let our Employee Handbook Builder assist you. It includes legally binding policies and the most up-to-date state and federal requirements.

Update Your Handbook Today!


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.