Ep 201 – Recruiting Candidates With Criminal Histories, a Personal Story

At a time when the unemployment rate is 3.8 percent, SHRM data says that more than 7.8 million jobs will need to be filled by 2020. As HR leaders, we’re always looking for talent pools to tap for new candidates. This includes campaigns to specifically recruit diverse candidates, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. One often overlooked group: people who have a criminal history. With nearly 700,000 people being released from jail and prison every year, employers must be open to hiring the formerly incarcerated.

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Ep 201: Recruiting Candidates With Criminal Histories, a Personal Story (@shelly_winner)

Technology specialist and Restorative Justice Activist, Shelley Winner wants to educate the public about the benefits of hiring the formerly incarcerated. Shelley was incarcerated herself and shares her personal story of what led to her incarceration, the personal work she did in prison and some of the challenges she and others face after being released when it comes to finding employment.

You might not hear it in this podcast episode, but Shelley’s story got me emotional and tears were shed by me during this interview with her. The reason she is speaking out is that she wants HR and recruiting leaders to understand the impact of hiring practices that avoid hiring those with felony convictions. Yes, there are laws in place like Ban the Box for many states but the only delay the criminal history conversation. So many companies won’t hire people with criminal histories. She says these hiring practices keep people who are trying to re-enter society and the workforce from being able to move forward and earn a living wage.

From the first day I stepped onto the prison yard, I enrolled in every rehabilitative program I possibly could. I spent my whole entire time working on becoming a better person by taking a multitude of classes. - @shelley_Winner #podcast #hiring Click To Tweet

Advice for Job Candidates with Criminal Records

I asked Shelley to also talk to job candidates who have criminal records giving them hope and insights on how to find employment when you have a criminal record. She says job candidates need to be resilient. She says job seekers with criminal histories need to tell employers they are interviewing with about the work they’ve done on themselves to move past their mistake. Shelley is a great example and within two months of her start date, she was named the most valuable player for her team. She says it wasn’t easy and she had to be relentless with her new employer because after reviewing her criminal history, they tried to rescind the job offer. She didn’t accept no for an answer and worked very hard with the recruiter and hiring manager to hire her even with a criminal history.



Empathy in the hiring process is imperative to keep the “human” in human resources. We all make mistakes. We may have even broken the law, but avoided incarceration. As Shelley said in the beginning of her TedX Talk (listed above), would you want the worst thing you’ve ever done to define you for the rest of your life? Second chances aren’t just something we talk about. We must understand how to support rehabilitation and education for people who are currently or formerly incarcerated. A second chance changed Shelley’s entire life. Consider the impact we could make as a community if we offered the same to the 700,000 people being released from the prison system every year. Shelley, thank you for your candor and your work in restorative justice.

Connect with Shelley Winner.



– Shelley Winner’s TedX Talk

– Code Tenderloin

– Ep 93 – Why You Should Hire Employees with Criminal Histories 

– SHRM’s Getting Back to Work Program

– Ban the Box Is a Joke The Solution to Hiring Candidates with Felonies

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. kim Bolden says

    Hi. I watched this episode, Ep 201: Recruiting Candidates With Criminal Histories.
    Is it possible to get SHRM credit for this?


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