Hiring ex-convicts to drive trucks and valuable cargo might seem like a bad business decision on the surface, but some trucking companies are giving such candidates a second look.
With estimates pointing to a shortfall of as many as 175,000 drivers by 2024, some in the trucking industry are looking to an unlikely source for workers — convicted felons who have served time in prison.
The U.S. is home to millions of nonviolent felons seeking meaningful employment.
The Sentencing Project reports that more than 70 million U.S. adults have some sort of criminal record. An estimated 600,000 people are released from federal and state prisons annually, according to the National Employment Law Project.
The stigma associated with a criminal record can follow a person for years, making many jobs and careers almost unattainable. More than three-quarters of released prisoners are rearrested within five years, according to the National Institute of Justice. A five-year study by the Indiana Department of Corrections found that regardless of an offender's classification, gainful employment was an “effective buffer for reducing recidivism.”
Some trucking companies and truckers say hauling goods is an attractive profession for those with a less-than-perfect record.
Nonviolent offenders and felons could be part of a solution to address the trucking industry's shortage of drivers, said Karl Robinson, president of R&R Transportation in Greensboro, N.C.
The trucking industry can be appealing to felons and ex-cons because there is a relatively short training time with the potential to earn a good, stable living, Robinson said.
Those who leave prison and have little family to fall back on often are not deterred by the prospect of being on the road all the time and away from home.
“You can go anywhere in the country and normally get a job driving a truck if you have a Class A [commercial driver’s license]. It's a transferable skill set and a good profession for them,” Robinson says.
Although a felony record can often pose a challenge for most employers, Robinson said not all felonies are equal.
When evaluating perspective drivers, the nature of the crime and the amount of time that has passed are considerations. The age of the person at the time the crime was committed is also a factor, he said.
Much as there’s a big difference between manslaughter and drug possession or larceny, there's also a difference between a 45-year-old who committed a felony at age 19 and someone who committed one six months ago, Robinson said.
“Things related to drugs, especially in the past, don't hold me back as much,” he said. Robinson is also less concerned about white-collar offenses.
He does not hire anyone convicted of a crime in which children or violence was involved, he said.
A Viable Career Path
Marcus Trimble, a felon, has been driving for almost two years.
Known as Parteehard da trucker on YouTube, Trimble applied to 40 companies before landing a job with a small outfit in Virginia. He found during his search that big companies considered candidates who had a criminal record only if they had been out of prison for at least 10 years, while many smaller companies were willing to take five years.
Despite the difficulty of landing a driving job, Trimble said trucking can be a great profession for ex-cons.
“You can make a decent living. It’s a way that you can come from where you were to being a productive member of society,” Trimble said.
A North Carolina trucker named Scott who produces video blogs under the identity Red Viking Trucker said there are many felons working in the industry.
Based on what he has seen, companies are willing to hire nonviolent felons after two years and typically start those drivers at a lower pay rate, he said.
“The drivers I have spoken with say they've had horrible rates to start but found everything leveled out at the one-year mark and that they had a level playing field,” said Scott, who asked that his last name not be used in order to protect his business.
Despite his desire to give people a chance, Robinson doesn't take hiring felons lightly. Although the Federal Bonding Program offers bonding for ex-cons for the first six months of their employment, a bad hire can still present a big reputational risk for the company.
Yet Robinson said an ex-con who is validated and “treated right” can prove to be a highly reliable, loyal and professional driver.
Of the felons he has hired, many have stayed a long time and become a valuable asset to the business when given the right opportunity, he said.
“A lot of them want to be a part of not just a business, but a family,” Robinson says.
Felon Drivers Limited by Insurers and Government Contracts
Although trucking companies may be willing to give a felon a chance, many are limited in hiring by their insurance companies and by the cargo they haul. Some criminal offenses — including sales of a controlled substance, smuggling, robbery and weapons charges — can disqualify drivers from obtaining a hazmat endorsement for up to seven years.
Felons and drivers with certain criminal records are often also barred from working on government contract jobs. A driver who committed a felony 20 years ago, for example, typically can't make a delivery to a nuclear power plant or many ports.
“It depends on if it’s a federally mandated contract, but it can often be a problem and they're limited on where they can drive,” Robinson said.
Most trucking companies aren't eager to advertise that they hire felons, yet a number of websites, including HelpforFelons.com and HireFelons.com, point to the trucking industry as a top place for felons to obtain a good-paying job.
Crete Carrier, a privately owned trucking company, will consider candidates with an “acceptable criminal history,” according to its website.
Candidates should state their felonies when asked but not say more than they need to, Trimble said.
“Look for the smaller companies; they're more willing to give you a chance,” he said.
R&R Transportation starts ex-con drivers with four to six weeks of “soft skill” training that can help reinforce work ethic and communication skills, Robinson said.
They then attend a six-week driving school program to obtain their commercial driver’s license before being paired with another experienced driver for additional on-the-road training, he said.
Robinson has urged different stakeholders to consider the opportunity felons present the trucking industry.
In 2016, Robinson and representatives from other industries met with President Barack Obama's economic advisors and other leaders in Washington, D.C., about the state's workforce needs. There are issues posed by insurance laws that prohibit companies from hiring felons.
Some “shut out” a large number of people from the workforce, Robinson said.
He also recently spoke to 200 inmates at a federal system about opportunities in the transportation industry.
Hiring felons is good for the trucking industry and society because providing an individual with a decent livelihood reduces recidivism, Robinson said.
“People can't make it on minimum wage jobs,” he said. “They can be great drivers if given a chance and are able to provide for themselves and their family.”