Ex-prisoners face adversity as job seekers, even though opportunities are abundant

Ex-prisoners face adversity as job seekers, even though opportunities are abundant

The US unemployment rate is hovering near the lowest level seen since the 1960s. A few months ago, there were about two job opportunities for every unemployed person in the country. Many standard economic models suggest that almost everyone who is looking for a job has a job.

Yet the broadest group of Americans with incarceration or arrest records — men and disproportionately more blacks — have remarkably high unemployment rates. Above 60 percent People coming out of jail are unemployed even after one year, they are searching for work but not getting work.

This harsh reality persists even as the social upheaval following the killing of George Floyd in 2020 spurred a “second chance hiring” movement in corporate America aimed at hiring candidates with criminal records. And this gap exists even as unemployment for minority groups overall is near record lows.

Many states have “ban the box” laws that prohibit asking on initial job applications whether candidates have a criminal history. But prison records can block progress after interviews or background checks—especially for more serious convictions than nonviolent drug offenses, which have undergone a more sympathetic public reappraisal in recent years.

For economic policy makers, the persistent demand for labor combined with the persistent lack of work for many ex-prisoners presents a strange conundrum: a widespread cut grass Citizens have re-entered society – one by one quadrupling the US incarceration rate Over 40 years – but the country’s economic engine isn’t sure what to do with them.

“These are people trying to compete in the legal labor market,” said Shawn D. Bushway, an economist and criminologist with the RAND Corporation, who estimates that 64 percent of unemployed men are arrested and 46 percent convicted. “You can’t say, ‘Well, these people are just lazy’ or ‘These people don’t really want to work.'”

In a research paper, Mr. Bushway and his co-authors found that when ex-prisoners get jobs, “they earn significantly less than their counterparts without criminal history records, making the middle class less accessible to unemployed men.” becomes eligible”. ,

One challenge is the long-standing belief that people with criminal records are more likely to be difficult, untrustworthy or unreliable employees. DeAnna Hoskins, president of JustLeadershipUSA, a nonprofit group focused on reducing incarceration, said she challenged that concern as overstated. Furthermore, he said, excluding ex-prisoners from the job market could lead to “existential guilt” by those seeking to make a living.

One way to prevent recidivism – a relapse into criminal behavior – is to deepen investments in prison education so that former prisoners can re-enter society with more demonstrable, valuable skills.

According to a RAND analysis, incarcerated people who participate in education programs are 43 percent less likely to be re-incarcerated than others, and for every dollar spent on prison education, the government Saves $4 to $5 in confinement costs.

last year, a Chapter of the White House Council of Economic Advisers President’s Economic Report In part, it was devoted to “substantial evidence of labor force discrimination against formerly incarcerated people”. The Biden administration announced that the Departments of Justice and Labor would dedicate $145 million over two years to job training and re-entry services for federal prisoners.

Mr. Bushway pointed to another approach: a comprehensive government-sponsored employment program for those leaving prison. Such programs existed more widely at the federal level before the tough anti-crime movement of the 1980s, which provided incentives such as wage subsidies for businesses that hired workers with criminal records.

But Mr Bushway and Ms Hoskins said any resulting change would require the support and coordination of states and cities. some small but ambitious Efforts are on.

In May 2016, Jabre Jarrett of Ripley, Tennessee, a small town about 15 miles east of the Mississippi River, got a call from his sister. She told Mr Jarrett, who was 27 at the time, that her boyfriend had assaulted her. Frustrated and angry, Mr. Jarrett drives to meet her. A verbal dispute with the man, who was armed, turned physical and Mr. Jarrett, who was also armed, shot him.

Mr. Jarrett pleaded guilty to the charge of murder and was given a 12-year sentence. Released in 2021 after his sentence was reduced due to good conduct, he found he was still, literally, paying for his crime.

Housing was difficult to find. Mr. Jarrett owed child support. And despite a vibrant labor market, they struggled to cobble together a livelihood, with employers hesitant to offer them full-time work that paid enough to cover their bills.

“One night someone from my past called me, man, and they offered me a chance to get back in the game,” he said – with options like “running scams, selling drugs, you name it”.

Part of the reason they resisted, Mr Jarrett said, was that a few weeks earlier, out of curiosity, they had decided to sign up for a program called Perceiver.

Perceive, a nonprofit group funded by federal grants, private donations and state partnerships, focuses on preventing recidivism partly through technical job training, which is provided to people recently released from prison and three years after release. Provides software development courses to the people within the year. It combines that effort with “wraparound services” to address financial and mental health needs — including counseling, transportation, temporary housing and access to basic necessities.

For Mr. Jarrett, that network helped make a difference in life. When her phone call with an old friend fell off, she called a mental health counselor at Persivier.

“I said, ‘Man, is this real?'” he recalled. “I told him, ‘I got child support, I recently lost another job, and someone just offered me an opportunity to make money, and I want to turn it down so badly, But I have no hope.'” The counselor talked to her about that moment and discussed less risky ways to deal with the next months.

In September, after his year-long training period, Mr. Jarrett became a full-time Web developer for Perceiver, earning about $55,000 a year — a stroke of luck, he said, until he could land a more senior role in a private do not build up enough experience for Area employer.

Percevier is relatively small (active in six states) and rudimentary in its design. Yet its program claims extraordinary success compared to the traditional approach.

By many measures, more than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are re-arrested or convicted. Percevier executives report repetition in the single digits among participants who complete their program, with 93 percent being placed in jobs and an 85 percent retention rate, defined as still working a year later. Has gone.

“We’re dealing with regular people who made a huge mistake, so whatever I can do to help them live fruitful, peaceful, good lives is what I want to do,” at Perceiver. said program manager Julie Landers. Atlanta Area.

If neither employers nor governments “throw the dice” on the millions of people convicted of serious crimes, Ms Landers argued, “we’ll get what we’ve always got” – cycle poverty and criminality – “and that is the definition of insanity.”

Dante Cottingham received a life sentence at age 17 for first-degree intentional homicide in the murder of another man and served 27 years. While in prison, he completed a paralegal program. Later as a job seeker, he battled the stigma of a criminal record – a barrier he’s trying to help others overcome.

While working a few minimum-wage restaurant jobs in Wisconsin after his release last year, he volunteered as an organizer for Expo – ex-prisoners organizing — a non-profit group, funded primarily by grants and donations, that aims to “restore formerly incarcerated people to full participation in the life of our communities.”

He now works full-time for the group, meeting local businesses to persuade them to take on people with criminal records. He also works for other groups, project wishhopAs a Peer Support Specialist, I use my experience to mentor current and former incarcerated people.

It may still feel like a small victory to “interview just anyone”, Mr. Cottingham said, adding that usually only two or three companies show initial interest in anyone with a serious record.

“I go to some doors, but I keep talking, I keep trying, I keep holding meetings to discuss,” he said. “It’s not easy though.”

Ed Hennings, who started the Milwaukee-based trucking company in 2016, sees things from two perspectives: as a formerly incarcerated person and as an employer.

Mr. Hennings served 20 years in prison for reckless homicide in a confrontation between him and his uncle with another man. Even though he hires mostly formerly incarcerated people — at least 20 so far — he bluntly tells some candidates that he hasn’t had “enough space to understand whether you’ve changed or No.” Still, Mr. Hennings, 51, is quick to say that he has become frustrated with employers who use those circumstances as a common excuse.

“I understand it takes a little more work trying to make sense of it all, but I know from hiring people myself that you just have to hone your judgment game,” he said. “There are some people who come home not ready to change – that is true – but there are a large proportion who are ready to change when given the opportunity.”

Besides more educational opportunities before release, he thinks encourage employers like subsidy to otherwise what wouldn’t they do This may be one of the few solutions that lasts, even if it is a hard political hurdle,

“It’s hard for them not to see you in a certain way and it’s harder still to recover from that stigma,” Mr. Hennings said. “And it’s part of the conditioning and culture of American society.”

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