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JPMorgan Chase hired more than 2,000 ex-convicts last year

JPMorgan Chase is encouraging people with criminal records to apply for a job at the country's largest bank as part of a "second chance hiring" program announced this week.

Roughly 2,000 people hired last year — or 10% of the bank's new hires in 2018 — had previously been convicted of low-level crimes, the bank said. JPMorgan Chase asks no questions about criminal backgrounds on job applications to avoid disqualifying candidates who would otherwise be well-suited for employment. 

Thirty-five states and more than 150 cities and counties have so-called "ban the box" laws that restrict these types of questions, according to the National Employment Law Project. The terminology refers to the section on job applications asking if a candidate has ever been convicted of a crime. 

"As a firm, we have been working to drive inclusive economic growth in the places where we live and work. We know not everyone is benefiting from the economy equally and not sharing in the prosperity where economies are growing, and we think that's a problem," said Whitney Smith, JPMorgan's head of regional philanthropy for North America. 

The company also wants to do well by customers and shareholders. 

"Of course we don't want anyone who poses a risk, but what's best for business is to have the best person for the job sitting in the job," said Gershom Smith, assistant general counsel at JPMorgan Chase. 

Bank robbers, of course, need not apply. People with criminal pasts who become bank employees tend to have been convicted of minor crimes, such as disorderly conduct, personal drug possession and driving under the influence, JPMorgan said. They typically occupy entry-level jobs in software technology as well as lending and account servicing, but are encouraged to consider the bank's wide range of opportunities. 

The bank is regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which relaxed its hiring restrictions last year. Smith also noted that the bank does better when the communities it serves are thriving. "If people don't have jobs, they won't bank," he said.

The firm's chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, said in a statement that offering job opportunities to people with criminal records reflects the banks commitment to "reduce recidivism, hire talented workers and strengthen the economy."

The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is over 27%, compared to 3.5% for those without criminal histories, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. 

Research has shown that employees with records make solid workers, who are retained at higher rates than those without criminal histories. Improved retention helps reduce employers recruitment and training costs. 

In the past month, JPMorgan Chase has already hired nine employees through the second chance program, which it's piloting in Chicago. The 2,000-plus hires from last year were made informally and without assistance from local programs. JPMorgan has since partnered with organizations that specialize in training, including Skills for Chicagoland's Future, Cara, the Safer Foundation and Cabrini Green Legal Aid, to place applicants with criminal records in operational and processing roles.  

"We want to get out into the community and say the door is open," Smith said. "We are judging everyone on their own merits, and we don't want people to rule themselves out because they don't think they can get a job here."

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