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Ex-prisoners in the United States are a vulnerable population when it comes to settling in the outside society. They face many challenges that make their re-entry into the population very hard. The major challenges that these people face are; returning to their families, housing opportunities, employment opportunities, and recidivism. Most prisoners rely on their families for support after their release and can end up burdening them. Prisoners find difficulty getting housing due to their criminal history forcing them to leave with their families or friends. Likewise it is hard for them to get employed due to their reputation and lack of current skills required in the job market. Prisoners have a high tendency of being rearrested. They are usually accused for parole violations. This paper shall focus on the problems inmates face on getting employment once they are released. The discussion shall cover a federal proposal that addresses the problem but has not been passed yet.
According to recent research, released inmates find it hard to get and maintain jobs within the first year of release. Only 39 percent of the prisoners released in Cleveland had full time job while 10 percent managed to get part time employment. The rest of the portion of inmates remained jobless. Community leaders and social service providers have identified employment to be a major factor of successful reentry of the prisoners. According to this survey, employment was established as the main challenge for a successful reentry (“Employment for Prisoners”, 2002). The major populations of inmates who manage to get employment find it in low-skill job sectors. In a certain state, slightly more than a third of the inmates undergoing reentry only managed to secure jobs as manual laborers in the construction industry. Wholesale, food service, maintenance, and repair are other sectors that the inmates are heavily concentrated during reentry. The decline of manufacturing jobs in the United States has increased the problem of inmates securing employment during reentry. The employment that released inmates finds pay lesser wages than the jobs they had prior to incarceration. In Cleveland, the prisoners who got employment within their first year of reentry earned averagely less than eighty percent of their income before incarceration.
It is evident that ex-prisoners are much less likely to secure jobs than an individual in the general population. This trend is despite the limited research done on reentry employment with its relation to recidivism. A study conducted on more than 200 employers in certain region established the problem of employment for ex-inmates. It revealed that former inmates with exactly the same set of skills required in the job market as the general population were half as likely to get the opportunity to be employed in those jobs (Visher, Debus-Sherrill & Yahner, 2011). A study conducted by the Bureau of Justice also reveals that only 12.5% of the employers admitted that they would consider employing ex-inmates in their firms. It is ironical that ex-prisoners find it hard to get employment while employment during reentry reduces recidism.
The problem of inmates finding employment during reentry is partly their course. Prisoners find it hard securing employment after incarceration since a majority of them have limited job related experience and education Several studies have concluded that almost 70 percent of the inmates are high school drop outs (Brown, 2014). Involvement in the criminal justice system and imprisonment makes ex-prisoners to be viewed negatively by their peers in the professional network. Their previous employers have the same impression towards them. The loss of their professional network, if the ex- prisoners had, and their under scored resumes make it almost impossible for them to secure an interview with an employer (Bender, 2004).
Research by the Urban Institute reveals that approximately 70 percent of the ex-inmates have a history of drug abuse. The study reveals that a significant population of them also suffered from mental and physical health related issues. About 15 to 20% of this population had reported emotional disorders. These conditions limit the capability of the former prisoners to secure employment. After employers being aware of the possibilities of these conditions, they consider this group of people as not ready for the job. The general population views the ex-inmates as very dangerous people. Many employers are usually afraid of being sued for negligent hiring which would be as a result of exposing people to “dangerous people”. Due to avoidance of damages charged for such a suit, employers are never willing to give jobs to people with criminal records. Cumulatively, employers have lost an average of $1.6 million as damages in more than 70% of the cases concerning negligent hiring (www.urban.org). This statistic makes its extremely hard for potential employers to consider hiring potentially risky people.
Surprisingly race plays a factor when it comes to ex-inmates finding a job. According to a study, it was discovered that African Americans offenders were two thirds less likely to get job offers as compared to the whites. These figures was explained by another revelation that African American non-offenders were half less likely to get job offers than white non-offenders. Since race significantly plays a role in restricting job opportunities, African American ex-prisoners suffer a huge double challenge (Metraux, Roman & Cho, 2007). These group of former inmates need to overcome the burden of racism and then go on to convince employers that they are not potentially risky workers despite their criminal records.
Fair Chance Act
The rising challenge of former inmates finding employment led to the creation of the Fair Chance Act. Senator Cory booker led a bipartisan bill to pass the Fair Chance Act. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve the bill. The cosponsors of the bill were Sen. Joni Ernst, Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Gary peters, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The passage of the bill in the committee is a sign of the increase in bipartisan support for the reforms that intend to remove the obstacles of hiring ex-inmates. According to Senator Booker, this group of people has already paid their debt to the society and need a chance to change their lives. According to him, there are many Americans who have criminal records that make them be by passed by employers without considering having a look at their qualifications for the employment opportunities. The senator argues that this trend will tend to increase the incidences of recidivism at the expense of the taxpayer in all communities in the country. He explains that changing the approach in which the society thinks about the criminal justice such as considering the fate of the ex inmates who intend to be productive members of the society will restore the nation’s justice and liberty. It will also save the tax payers cash (“Justice and Public Safety | Cory Booker | U.S. Senator for New Jersey”, 2017).
The bipartisan agreement of the Fair Chance Act is an indication that senators with differing political ideas and background can be dedicated in improving the lives of Americans ex offenders. They are focused to help improve the former prisoners that are dedicated to change their lives and become productive members of the society. The act ensures that if an ex-inmate wants to work to build him and the society, the government and all stakeholders should do everything possible to ensure they get the platform and opportunity to work. Employment is one of the best ways of ensuring that former prisoners do not fall back to their criminal ways. It will make the society much safer, enhance unity if families, and make this group of people less dependent of the government’s aid. Unemployment of the former inmates brings plenty of desperation and tends to facilitate recidivism. Many senators that cosponsored the bill gladly shepherded the bill through the committee since they viewed it as a sign of good leadership. They were convinced to touch the issues of this vulnerable group in the community, ex offenders. Approximately eighteen states and more than 80 cities in the United States have enacted similar policies to help the former incarcerators. These policies tend to help people with criminal records to get gainful employment. “Ban the box” is an example of such a policy. Some multinational cooperation in America such as Wal-Mart, Target, Bath and Beyond, Home depot, and Koch Industries have embraced similar policies making them treat this vulnerable group of Americans fairly when it comes to assessing job applications(“Justice and Public Safety | Cory Booker | U.S. Senator for New Jersey”, 2017).
The Fair Chance Act would help solve the problem of former inmates getting employment in many ways. The act will give the former incarcerated citizens an upper hand when it comes to earning government contracts and working in the federal agencies. This will be done by setting aside the criminal records of these individuals during the hiring process. The records will only be brought when it reaches the conditional stage. The act tends to prohibit federal contractors from seeking the criminal records of members in the society during their hiring process. They can be given access to such information at the end of the hiring process. The act has important exceptions that allow the looking of criminal records before the end of the hiring process. These exceptions apply in positions related to law enforcement and those that will involve dealing with minors.
In summary, former incarcerated members of the society face challenges in getting employment. The challenges are brought by many barriers that both the society and employers create due to their negative perception of the group of individuals. This problem tends to impact the society negatively as it only increases chances of recidivism. Legislatives try to solve this problem by proposing the Fair Chance Act to help remove the barriers to employment that these vulnerable group face.
We can do it today.
From: responsible Citizen
Subject: Fair Chance Act
I would to recommend you to be support of the Fair Chance Act that has been proposed by the Senator of New Jersey, Sen. Booker. Members of this state feel that the bill solves a major challenge that our society faces. The act intends to solve the challenge that the former incarcerators face in finding employment opportunities. For many years, this group of members in our society has been discriminated by the employers when they seek employment. The act will ensure that the government gives the ex inmates priority in the offering of government contracts and federal jobs. The bill when passed will prevent the private employers from using the criminal records of people during the hiring process. These employers should be more concerned on the academic qualification and work experience rather than focusing on the criminal history of the people they intend to hire.
The passing of this bill into law will not only help the former incarcerated members of the society but also the larger population in the society at large. Helping these vulnerable members of the society to find employment will reduces the chances of recidivism. Finding employment for the ex-inmates will help them transform their lives to be better members of the society. Hindering them from productive employment will bring frustration to their lives and force them to return back to their old criminal ways. Passing this bill will be a great help to the entire nation.
- (2017). Retrieved 11 September 2017, from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/31786/411683-The-Challenges-of-Prisoner-Reentry-Facts-and-Figures.PDF
- Bender, E. (2004). Treating Former Inmates Means Overcoming Prison Mind-Set. Psychiatric News, 39(24), 16-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/pn.39.24.00390016a
- Brown, C. (2014). Returns to Postincarceration Education for Former Prisoners*. Social Science Quarterly, 96(1), 161-175. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12094
- Employment for Prisoners. (2002). Probation Journal, 49(1), 49-50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/026455050204900112
- Justice and Public Safety | Cory Booker | U.S. Senator for New Jersey. (2017). Booker.senate.gov. Retrieved 11 September 2017, from https://www.booker.senate.gov/?p=issue&id=76
- Metraux, S., Roman, C., & Cho, R. (2007). Incarceration and Homelessness. National Symposium on Homelessness Research.
- Visher, C., Debus-Sherrill, S., & Yahner, J. (2011). Employment After Prison: A Longitudinal Study of Former Prisoners. Justice Quarterly, 28(5), 698-718. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2010.535553