As Labor Day Approaches: A Look at Barriers to Employment for Those with a Criminal History
Date:  08-30-2013

Millions of Americans eager to join labor force, if only someone will give them a second chance
On January 5, 2013 and January 22, 2013 Reentry Central posted articles concerning reentry, background checks, employment and the effect of criminal background checks on the American economy.

The January 5 article, “United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) Seeking Comments on Criminal Background Checks” offered the following comments from Marc Maurer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project:

  • Nearly one in three American adults is arrested by age 23.

  • Many of those who have been arrested (and thus have a “criminal record” that could appear on a criminal background check) have never been convicted of a crime.

  • Black workers are disproportionately impacted by criminal background checks, reflecting disparities in the criminal justice system and racial bias among employers. Research has documented that African Americans with no felony convictions are no more likely to receive a callback or job offer as whites with a felony record.

  • Employment is essential for people who have broken the law and are trying to reenter society. Barring such people from getting a job increases the odds that they will commit another crime.

  • The bottom line is that people should have the opportunity for employment in jobs for which they are qualified and for which their criminal record is irrelevant. The overly broad use of criminal background checks by employers has a disproportionate impact on people of color.

    The January 22 article “Brennan Center Highlights Impact of Criminal Records on the Economy” included the powerful statement to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by Inimai Chettiar, Nicole Austin-Hillery, Thomas Giovanni, and Meghna Giovanni of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School:

    “Although targeted by these discriminatory policies, the formerly incarcerated and communities of color do not suffer alone. All Americans are pulled down into this systemic quagmire. The inability to gain stable, respectable work, or to secure educational opportunities, leads directly to recidivism, reducing public safety. Policies that needlessly restrict a formerly incarcerated person’s ability to work have had the unintended consequence of placing greater fiscal burdens on limited government resources. The loss of so many potential workers has a significant negative impact on the economy at large. Further, stable employment opportunities are one of the pillars upon which crime reduction policies must be constructed. Failing to provide appropriate employment opportunities to those with criminal records will undoubtedly increase crime and incarceration rates and associated costs.”

    Of course not everyone who is released from prison is job-ready. Amy Solomon’s article” In Search of a Job: Criminal Records as Barriers to Employment” presents a set of disturbing facts:

  • Sixty-eight percent meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence.

  • Sixty percent do not have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma.

  • Thirty percent were unemployed in the month before arrest, and almost twice as many were underemployed.

  • Sixteen percent are estimated to have serious mental health problems.

  • Fourteen percent were homeless at some point during the year before they were incarcerated

    Solomon presents an in depth analysis of the problems individuals with a criminal history face, and offers suggestions for solutions.
  • Click here to read more.