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Finding a job for ex-con | John L. Hill

Monday, May 09, 2022 @ 10:38 AM | By John L. Hill

John Hill %>
John Hill
A few weeks ago, a young man approached me complaining that he has been unable to find work even though there are plenty of jobs available in the area. He is neat, college-educated and industrious. Yet for every place he applies for work, he is turned down.

The reason is he has just completed an 18-month sentence. He has a criminal record. Most potential employers ask bluntly on the job application form if the applicant has a criminal record. Sometimes the wording is less blunt: Are you bondable? The fellow I talked with had been approached by a very reputable and well-known food supplier in Ontario to work on a permanent basis.

He had all the necessary qualifications. He completed the job application on a Friday expecting to be called in as early as the next Tuesday. Rather than misrepresenting himself on the form and saying he was not bondable because of the criminal record (an explanation on the form was to the point: You are not bondable if you have a criminal record), he asked the HR representative if he could omit the answer because of his situation. The local representative explained that the American head office would be contacted and “We will call you in for work once you are approved.” That approval never came. The man remains unemployed.

Reintegration into the community is a major problem facing all ex-cons. Most individuals being released have a strong work ethic and with money in their pocket are less likely to commit another crime to sustain themselves. Many have taken extensive programs while in prison to increase their marketability in the workforce. Some have upgraded their education and, in some cases, receiving university degrees. The only deficiency might be lack of computer training and skills because computers and Internet access are forbidden in penitentiaries. Nonetheless, most inmates I have interviewed at release are certainly willing to accept physical labour if they can get it.

Some of the difficulty is attributable to reduced competitiveness in the market. Incarceration can mean missing out on adaptation to changes in technology. Much of the problem also lies with a fear by the employee that a parolee will be returned to prison or commit workplace havoc by having to be called in to have meetings with community parole officers and therefore leaving his or her post.

It is hoped the minister of public safety will take seriously the Correctional Investigator’s recommendation on community corrections in his latest Annual Report. It recommended that the minister “promptly conduct an in-depth review of the community corrections sector” and provide funding “for a reinvigorated community corrections model.”  

Allowing offenders to continue with the employment held at the time of sentencing would mitigate the stigma that prevents released prisoners from competing in the workplace. Reduced numbers sentenced to imprisonment would also allow for the closure of redundant and archaic penitentiaries.

But that recommendation could be better implemented if the federal government would return the option of accelerated parole review allowing non-violent first offenders to be released at one-sixth of their sentence. Similarly, provincial laws should be enacted following the Texas model where first-time non-violent offenders are not imprisoned but enrolled in correctional programming.

Jobs provide a sense of structure and responsibility to prisoners after release pursuing the difficult reintegration process. A study in the United States (Visher, Debus, Yahner) found that prisoners without previous work experience or those who engaged in drug abuse within two months of release had a significantly tougher time of finding work. This indicates that the Correctional Service of Canada and provincial correctional officials could assist in reducing recidivism by providing those imprisoned with greater job skills while serving their time and ensuring conditions fostering temptations to use drugs after release are closely monitored. Increasing reliance on community corrections as an alternative to imprisoning first time non-violent offenders and requiring them to participate in programming aimed at addressing their criminogenic problem will go a long way.

Many of the problems for prisoners being unable to find employment can be seen as systemic. But the elephant in the room is the attitudinal change required of us all: we require an attitude change for those of us on the outside who hold released offenders with disdain based on stereotypical notions of what ex-cons are. Conviction for crime is punished by a restriction on liberty and not establishing a caste system in society. 
John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. Contact him at

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