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Misconceptions & missed opportunities: Hiring people who have been incarcerated

By Sophia Villano and Ian Kilpatrick

R&R Head Labs, a new Denver barbershop that employs formerly incarcerated people. ALEX DEAN CREATIVE

When it comes to assessing job candidates with a conviction history, most employers are basing their decisions on misconceptions. ICW personal trainers are amongst the people who have been most affected by mass incarceration and systemic racism, and they have proven time and time again that experience in prison does not make someone unhireable. Our model has resulted in 85-90% of our program participants avoiding recidivism or being rearrested in stage 4 of our model. On top of that, last year 41 of our participants found meaningful careers outside of ICW, which of course is a crucial step in breaking the systemic trapping of incarceration.

James Repenning, Founder of R&R Head Labs in Denver, saw this issue and decided to create a business where everyone wins. His company is similar to ICW as it features a workforce development program for people who have been incarcerated, but as a more traditional business model in the form of a high end barbershop. He shared with us some of the most common misconceptions and lesser known benefits in his experience hiring people with a conviction history.


  • Customers will be scared of the candidate/employee.  If they’re on a good path this just isn’t an issue at all!  In fact, I find many of our formerly incarcerated employees are more gentle and caring than your average employee. 

  • Candidates/employees will be aggressive/angry.  While this may be the case for someone that hasn’t committed to a better path, we have not seen a single instance of aggression

  • Candidates/employees will use harsh language.  Most are anxious to prove they’ve changed for the better, and often I find them catching me using profanity as opposed to the other way around.


  1. Easy one- loyalty.  My experience in several industries is that formerly incarcerated employees never forget who gave them a chance and are incredibly loyal.  Losing/retraining employees is costly, this is a big deal!

  2. Pride- this is an extension of loyalty, but worth calling out separately.  I find formerly incarcerated employees take a lot more pride in their work, their employer. They wear the hats/tshirts, they talk highly of the company.

  3. Self-awareness-  People always ask me if our team will be harder to manage than average.  I think its easier because our employees are often aware of their own issues and shortcomings and are actively working on them.  Self- awareness is uncommon and valuable!

ICW and R&R Head Labs are not the only one proving that people who have been previously convicted are qualified applicants. A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine finds that a criminal record significantly negatively impacts the chances of getting a job offer, with that chance being cut nearly in half if you are black. The RAND Corporation has released a series of studies that could assist employers in making well informed decisions during the hiring process. According to their studies, employers tend to overlook applicants who have been incarcerated or convicted, but over 25% of the workforce has had at least one previous conviction. A lot of the hesitation comes from the fear of recidivism, but the RAND Corporation studies show that 75% of offenders have not received a second conviction within 10 years. Hiring people with a previous conviction is not only beneficial to the employee, but also to the company. An article published by Forbes says that hiring people with a previous conviction offer “higher retention rates, lower turnover and more loyalty” to the company.

The personal stories from ICW and R&R Head Labs and data all add up. The stigma of having people who have been previously incarcerated in the workplace is just that. The studies done by the RAND Corporation support ICW’s mission and model, proving that our results are not just outliers.

ICW's gyms in Savin Hill, Cambridge, Dorchester, and Chicago have a variety of fitness equipment to accommodate any type of workout you would want. By supporting ICW you are supporting anti-recidivism, anti-segregation, and the bridging of social capital.

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