Back at the beginning of the month, I invited readers to take a brief poll that asked two questions:
- Have you ever committed a crime?
- If so, were you arrested or did you get away with it?
The purpose of the exercise was to show that, in many cases, the poor judgment and casual morality we attribute to offenders may be shared by plenty of others who have never served time. In fact, a full 90 percent of the poll respondents admitted to breaking the law. Of those, only 21 percent were actually arrested, and 58 percent said they got away with what they did completely.
Not surprisingly, these unscientific results dovetail with actual research. Generally only a small percentage, even of violent crimes, result in arrests.
In fact, in a 1995 report on interpreting crime statistics, Delbert S. Elliott, the director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence noted:
The probability of arrest for these very serious violent offenses is very low, even when self-reported offenses were restricted to those involving a weapon or injury. For males, less than 10 arrests per 100 self-reported robberies and less than five arrests per 100 aggravated assaults.
Now ultimately, if a person commits enough crimes, the probability of arrest goes up. But the point I’m trying to make here is that the mere absence of a record doesn’t mean someone is a “safer” choice for an employer to hire. As I’ve written in the past, using arrest and convictions records to screen out candidates for jobs and to make decisions about individuals isn’t foolproof.
As these statistics show: you’re not necessarily getting people with better judgment. In some cases, you’re merely getting people with better luck.
Yesterday in answering questions for ex-offenders, Jail to Job’s Eric Mayo recommended an offender “look at a criminal record as a handicap he has to overcome.” I think that’s pretty good advice for society, as well. When employers consider a job candidate, the smartest ones look at any disability or shortcomings in terms of how this impacts the measure of the whole person. Can he or she still meet the requirements of the job? How does she present herself? Based on what I’ve seen of this person do I feel that I can trust him? Does this individual seem to have taken responsibility and learned from his/her mistakes and shortcomings?
In many ways, the answers to these questions will tell you much more about a person than his or her record.