Should ex-convicts be given a second chance to prove they can be useful members of the community and workforce? It is a question business owners may consider when they place help wanted ads. There are no easy answers.

That's why we turned to The News' contractor consultants for their opinions on the subject.

"We are believers in giving people a chance and realizing that people can make dumb mistakes and pay a price for it," said Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service Inc.

But hiring ex-convicts for jobs in "sensitive areas," i.e., residential service, can present problems. "As much as they deserve a second chance, contractors need to protect their employees and customers," said Jeff Somers of Monsen Engineering Co.

To Hire Or Not To Hire?

Hiring an ex-convict has been a positive experience for Ann Kahn of Kahn Mechanical. "We have hired people who have been incarcerated because we believe in giving them a second chance," she said.

"For the most part, they have worked out as well as other people."

Allowing ex-convicts to work in less sensitive areas can provide better opportunities for them, too. "I do believe ex-convicts can change and probably do need a second chance," said Scott Getzschman of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal. "I would certainly consider them in our commercial installation department."

"It depends upon what they might be hired to do and what they had been incarcerated for," said Aaron York of Aaron York's Quality A/C. "For example, if they were to be working on new construction projects with and under close supervision of others, they might be OK. However, if they were being asked to service, repair, or install residential and commercial equipment where they are exposed to items which could be tempting, even if they were not guilty, and something was missing, they would be construed so.

"Would you want a convicted thief working in your home? Would you want a child molester around your children? Would you like a rapist in the home with your wife?

"Another great issue is whether our insurance companies would write insurance to cover us should they, and we, be aware we have hired a convicted person who had spent time in prison for some crime. While there might be some things in this industry they might do, it would be risky at best."

Some consultants said they would not hire an ex-convict under any circumstances because of the nature of their business.

"I would not hire an ex-convict due to the fact that we are a residential replacement company and we are in homes daily that have valuables in them," said Kevin Comerford of Service Champions. "I feel our obligation to our clients is to screen the people who work for us prior to having them come on board due to the fact that they are trusting us in their home.

"Of course, while we are never perfect with who we choose to work for us, I feel we are looking to decrease the chances of something happening."

"My upper-income clients would not warm up to the idea of an ex-con in their homes when they were not home," noted Vince DiFillippo of DiFillippo's Service. "My employees don't like the idea either.

"I interviewed an ex-con for a service tech position. All through the interviews and testing, I stated that we would be doing a complete background check and that he should tell me if there is anything I needed to know about because I didn't like surprises. I also informed him that he would need to submit to alcohol and drug testing, which he had no problem agreeing to.

"I offered him a job and stated that it was based on a successful clean background, driving license, and drug screening. Thirteen days later I received a report from the state police that he had a record for assault and unauthorized use of a vehicle. His drug test came back as diluted and needed to be retaken. I fired him the next day."

Larry Taylor of Air Rite Air Conditioning Co. said the law in his state makes it clear that hiring an ex-convict is risky business. "Since we are in the residential service and re-placement business, the law in Texas requires a background check on each employee who does work in a customers home," he said. "If you hire someone with a record then you are basically losing your defense against negligent hiring practices.

"We do not want to do that."

Kahn, a fellow Texas contractor, said, "Texas actually passed a law about four years ago preventing ex-convicts from performing air conditioning services (along with other trades) in residential properties. This law does not include commercial properties and does not affect our hiring, as we are in the commercial business."

Somers said there is another place for ex-convicts besides doing commercial work.

"I would hire an ex-convict for an office position providing we knew the full nature of the crime and felt that we would not have a problem with the person," he said.

Gaining Trust

York said that everyone deserves a second chance - but they have to earn it.

"They must realize that once you have a reputation for crime, you will likely have a most difficult time gaining the trust necessary from society," he noted.

"They might feel that society should just accept them with open arms and allow them to return with no qualms, but such will not be the situation.

"My aged grandfather told me as a 16-year-old that the only thing that I had that no one could take from me was a good name. If I would shield and protect it doing only that which was honorable, right, and fair, my name would continue to be good and it would bring me honor and good.

"But if I failed to live an honorable and respectable life, my name would be bad and everyone would know it. It would truly be, ‘Confidence is won by many deeds and lost by one.'

"A second chance? Yes. But they will be held to a higher standard than others, and, perhaps, justly so."

Publication date: 01/10/2005