It’s difficult for felons to find volunteer opportunities, but there are exceptions. Former offenders increase their chances by following a few simple guidelines during the application process. Several organizations identify volunteer opportunities for felons. The government is a good source of information on this matter, as well.
Find Felon Friendly Volunteer Opportunities
Second Chance Act (SCA) grants from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) help fund volunteer opportunities for felons as studies suggest that volunteering curbs criminal behavior and helps former offenders gain the experience and confidence to re-enter the workforce.
SCA funds are available to nonprofits, as well as state, municipal and tribal governments. The money can be used for the program itself or as assistance for the volunteer. A list of participating organizations can be found on the DOJ’s website.
Read More: How to Volunteer With a Criminal Record
Avoid Volunteer Positions Relevant to Convictions
A driver arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Connecticut is just one example of a former offender who faces future restrictions. The most obvious is a suspended license, but for felony DUI arrests and convictions, drivers in Connecticut may lose their licenses permanently. This presents practical obstacles to any position that requires driving.
In some of the worst cases, such as those where a child was in the car, the DUI process requires Connecticut's Department of Children and Families to do welfare assessments. These may come with restrictions regarding child-related volunteer positions. In certain situations, former felony offenders can place themselves in legal trouble by applying for volunteer roles related to their convictions.
Submit to Background Checks
The majority of volunteer opportunities require background checks. The Girl Scouts of America requires one before someone can become a troop leader. The local animal shelter might require a background check before letting a former offender walk dogs. Understandably, this makes some former offenders nervous, but there are protections in place to safeguard their privacy.
Volunteer Applications: Former offenders should fill out volunteer applications as accurately and thoroughly as possible. Informing an organization about DUI arrests or convictions, for instance, allows the applicant to place the incident in context. Information to provide might include:
- When the incident took place.
- Contributing factors.
- Programs, training and therapy designed to help.
- How the volunteer opportunity will help.
Attaching letters of reference from members of the community can help as well.
Another benefit, though it might not seem like it at the time, is that organizations can turn an applicant down immediately if her criminal background conflicts with operating policy. This allows the applicant to quickly apply elsewhere instead of waiting for background check results. While many organizations work with people who have misdemeanors, there are exceptions.
Criminal Background Checks: Background checks requiring a fingerprint go through state and federal databases. The fingerprint helps to ensure that records are up to date. Third-party background checks use a variety of sources for their information and have higher rates for error.
Former offenders who want a copy of their criminal history can request one through the FBI. If an error leads to a volunteer denial, the applicant can request a copy of the report in order to correct erroneous information. After that’s done, he can often re-apply.
Credit Checks: Special rules apply when organizations use credit reports to determine whether a volunteer is a good fit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides strict guidelines to protect the applicant’s privacy. The organization can’t run the check without permission and can’t share the information with anyone else. There’s also a strict process for notifying the applicant of the results.
A former offender who wants to ensure the accuracy of her credit report before applying can order copies from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Groups might also check social media before approving a volunteer.
Can Convictions Be Expunged in Order to Volunteer?
Expunging a crime means removing it from an individual’s criminal history. After an expungement, a formal background check will appear as if nothing ever happened, making it unnecessary to limit participation to volunteer opportunities for felons in many cases. Unfortunately, it’s not easy – and sometimes impossible – to have every type of conviction expunged.
For instance, while Connecticut DUI arrests and convictions fall off of driving records in 10 years, they're difficult to expunge. The courts already provide offenders with measures to avoid having a DUI on their records by way of remediation programs like the Pretrial Alcohol Education System (PAES).