Yes, in some cases. Our agency serves formerly incarcerated individuals, and we believe that their experiences and perspectives can contribute invaluably to our AmeriCorps VISTA program.
However, as per federal regulations that govern AmeriCorps, persons convicted of murder or registered as a sex offender are not eligible for the VISTA program. Provided that the conditions of their probation or parole have been met, persons convicted of other crimes are still eligible and have participated in VISTA in the past. If you are still on parole or probation you may be eligible for VISTA, if circumstances are truly extraordinary and extenuating. As these are federal policies, exceptions cannot be granted.
All applicants, no matter criminal history, undergo a full FBI background check and must disclose any convictions when submitting an application. Failure to disclose a conviction and/or unwillingness to undergo a background check can result in deselection from VISTA.
When reviewing applications, offenses will be weighed based on their severity, the time elapsed since conviction, steps taken towards change or recovery, and a person’s work history and involvement in the community since the conviction. It can be beneficial if a caseworker, reentry navigator/mentor, or parole officer writes you a recommendation for service with AmeriCorps. In some cases, such as those projects that focus on prison re-entry services, we view experience with the justice system as an asset.
If you do have a criminal history of any sort and intend to apply to VISTA be aware that you will be required to present court documentation that indicates your case, verdict, and sentencing, and that all conditions of your sentencing have been satisfied. These documents can take several weeks for the courts to process if they are not on hand. If you are intending to apply and do not have these documents on hand contact the court immediately to secure copies.