Beyond 'Ban the Box'
Wilsonville resident studies hiring of former felons
In Oregon, the Box has been banned for some four and a half months.
That "box" allowed businesses to require that former felons disclose their status as ex-offenders in the first phase of their application. Legislation was passed last year that made the box verboten for applications beginning in January of this year.
Leonard Dunn, a Wilsonville resident and correctional counselor at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, says that banning the box does make it more likely that former offenders will be hired. The topic of his doctoral dissertation, which he is presently at work on, has to do with why.
"What the research showed is that if an offender got to the interview portion of the hiring process, they had about a six-time greater chance of getting the job," Dunn says. "There's been a lot of research done on what has been dubbed de facto discrimination of ex-offenders and employment. That's not what I'm looking at."
What Dunn is interested in is the process that is, the evaluation process undertaken by employers that makes it so much more likely an ex-offender will be hired if interviewed than if they'd had to identify themselves as former felons on the application. Is it that employers pity ex-offenders? Do they form some sort of connection that makes getting hired more likely? Or is it something else? Understanding that has the potential to benefit both ex-offenders and employers.
"Since we know that there is a problem, and that problem is ex-offender employment discrimination, and we know that there's another problem that organizations want good employees there are bound to be employers out there that have tapped into that resource, and know how to solve both problems," Dunn says.
Dunn has been in law enforcement since the early '90s, and became a correctional officer with the State of Utah in 1994. In July 2013 he retired from his position in Utah and moved to Oregon to become a correctional councilor at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.
Dunn says that so far, the chief difficulty of his study has been in getting in touch with people who have interviewed an ex-offender for a job. Many businesses think that the study is about whether ex-offenders continue to be discriminated against, rather than about the psychology of interviewing.
Although Dunn's sample size is small at present, preliminary results have been surprising. He had expected to find that emotion played a major role in employers' decision whether or not to hire ex-offenders.
"I'm finding that there hasn't been a whole lot of emotionality in the decisions," Dunn says. "It's been very logic-based. There's been a reason for why employers are making decisions, and it wasn't because they felt bad for the offender. They knew the process of how to get a good employee, regardless of what their record was."
Dunn says that one employer he interviewed liked to ask ex-offenders if they had visitors while incarcerated. The intent behind the question was to determine whether the applicants were stable and therefore dependable. Dependability is a quality that the employers he has spoken with have so far emphasized as a key consideration in prospective employees, ex-offenders or no.
"It's things like that that I'm finding that are little pieces of the puzzle. If I could lay that entire puzzle out, then what I'd have is a road map for employers where they could actually improve their hiring practices and get a bigger bang for their buck."
Dunn hopes to have the study completed by October 2017. He says that both the dissertation and the degree he's working toward are extensions of what has kept him in corrections for more than two decades in the first place, and why he's willing to crunch small mountains of data, send out thousands of letters and pay for the $25 Amazon gift cards he gives study participants as a thank-you.
"This is my calling," Dunn says. "I love this work. I love helping people, and I love being on this leg of law enforcement."