*This is the introduction for my research essay for my College Composition class
Over 650,000 people are released from prison each year, and a majority of them are unemployed. Around 77 million Americans have a criminal record, and many struggle to find jobs. Although there are many organizations working to help formerly incarcerated people land back on their feet, many employers still feel social stigma against former prisoners. Not hiring ex-felons hurts the labor market and everyone else: the taxpayers, the employers, and the formerly incarcerated.
In 2016, the Obama Administration launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge. On November 2nd, 2015, President Obama said, “Now, a lot of the time [a] record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society -- even if you’ve already paid your debt to society.” He continues to say that it is bad for the individuals and the economy. ‘So we’ve got to make sure Americans who paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.” The pledge calls for all members to eliminate barriers for those with a criminal record and give them second chances.
Long term recidivism among prisoners released from prison showed very high arrest rates. According to a study by the Bureau of Justice, about two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were rearrested within three years. In May 2018, the Department of Justice reported on state prisoner recidivism. Of the 77% state prisoners released, blacks and whites each made up about 40%. “Of the entire study group, 32% have been convicted of a drug offense, 30% of property offenses, 26% of violent crimes, and 13% of public order offenses.” At least one in four former prisoners return to jail within the same year. Formerly incarcerated people face structural barriers to securing jobs, specifically within the period immediately following release.
Minority groups -especially women- status as “formerly incarcerated” reduces their employment opportunities even more. “Formerly incarcerated Black women in particular experience severe levels of unemployment, whereas white men experience the lowest” (Out of Prison and Out of Work.) Compared to the unemployment rate of the general population, the formerly incarcerated unemployment rate is much higher. The ICPSR Physical Data Enclave located in Michigan collected data for black and white men and women 35-45 within four years of release and the general public. According to them, “6.4% of black women are unemployed in the general public, and 43.3% of former incarceration. 4.3% of white men are unemployed in the general public, and 18.4% are unemployed after release from prison.” Both race and gender shape the stability of criminalized people.
Returning to the community is filled with challenges; finding employment is one of many difficult tasks. “[F]ormerly incarcerated people are almost ten times more likely to be homeless than the general public”(Nowhere to Go: Homelessness Among Formerly Incarcerated People.) Following release from prison, many formerly incarcerated people struggle to find housing and attain addiction and mental health support.
Formerly incarcerated people have difficulties finding work when they get released. Ex-convict unemployment greatly impacts our nation’s economy. In 2008, a study found that half of the people released from prison after eight months were unemployed. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated “not hiring ex-offenders costs the U.S. economy $57 to $67 billion annually in lost economic output.” Ex-convicts are more likely to return to prison if they are unable to find employment, at a cost to taxpayers.
There are programs to help incarcerated people return to society, such as Vocational Village in Michigan. Vocational Villages trains about 400 prisoners at a time in trades including welding, carpentry, plumbing, etc. Prisoners who participate in the program are housed together in a therapeutic environment that helps their success. Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington says, “about 95% of everybody who left Vocational Village had a job before they left.” Prisoners go through days of training intending to mimic a typical workday outside prison.
In 2004, All of Us or None -a national civil rights movement started by formerly incarcerated people- started Ban the Box. The campaign aims to remove the checkbox that asks if applicants have a criminal record. “ Since 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history, the impact of this discrimination is widespread and affects other aspects of life in addition to employment opportunity.” Ban the Box challenges employers to choose their best applicants based on job skills and qualifications.
Over 45 cities have changed their hiring applications to reduce discrimination based on conviction records. Many advocates had initiated the Ban the Box campaign, including the Second Chance Coalition in Minnesota. Their mission is to “advocate fair and responsible laws, policies, and practices . . . enabling individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system to fully support themselves and contribute to their communities to their full potential.” In 2009,Minnesota banned the box in employment applicants.
On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act. President Trump stated, “Americans… can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving… citizens a chance at redemption.” The First Step Act commits to improving the lives of people with criminal records, including better education programs to prepare them for release.
Inmates in the Bureau of Prisons(BOP) are getting second chances to improve their lives after release. Attorney General William P. Barr said, “inmates will have an even greater incentive to participate in evidence-based programs that prepare them for productive lives after incarceration.” The Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Need measures the risk of recidivism of inmates.
#Cut50 was co-founded in 2014 by human rights attorney Jessica Jackson Sloan, Matt Haney, and Van Jones. Jackson Sloan said, “#cut50 represents the idea that we can cut the prison population and crime in 50 percent in the next 10 years by, instead of employing tough on crime policies, employing smart safety solutions.” #Cut50 worked with many organizations across the country to restore hope and dignity to incarcerated people and increase the opportunity for success after prison.
Stand Together helps formerly incarcerated people build new lives after prison. Mark Holden, the senior vice president said, “There’s such a need for skilled labor in particular. That stigma’s wearing off… When employers see… there’s people coming out of prison who have those skills, they’re going to be willing to take a chance.”