Day 14

Work gives hope.

A study found that finding work was the one thing returning citizens are most consistently preoccupied with in their first month after being released from prison.  *see The First Month Out.  One significant reason is the pressure from the criminal justice system.  Parolees must maintain gainful employment, according to the parole agencies in at least 40 states.  But the need to work also satisfies basic human needs to be self-sufficient, to find fulfillment and to responsibly contribute, to support one’s family or to add value to the world.  It keeps one busy and separated from old ways of living.  Work has been deemed so fundamental to one’s existence that many countries across the world consider it a basic human right.

Work gives hope.

Joblessness, not race or culture or socioeconomic status, is the major controlling factor explaining the high rates of crime in poor communities, especially those of color.  Controlling for joblessness, researchers found that differences in violent crime rates between young black and white men disappear.  *see Donald Braman, Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America, p. 219.

We need more jobs not more jails!  

Jobs are a crime fighting mechanism.  And quite an efficient and effective one at that.  Jails, not so much.  Even though today crime rates are down, no one has found a clear connection between incarceration and the reduction in crime rates.  Take for example New Orleans, the “incarceration capital of the world”, according to some.  New Orleans has one of the highest incarceration rates yet one of highest violent crime rates, at the same time.  In fact, some studies indicate that greater incarceration rates actually leads to greater crime rates.  This phenomenon is most likely due to the increased state of desperation that follows the formerly incarcerated or one simply with a criminal record the rest of one’s life.

Work gives hope.

But for the 65 million Americans with criminal records, jobs are extremely difficult to find and secure.  Even some of the most qualified applicants run smack into the wall when applying for jobs.  I can’t say it any better than the following excerpt from the National Employment Law Project‘s 65 Million “Need Not Apply”:  The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment (*see p. 3):

For many companies, criminal background checks are a means to determine the safety and security risk a prospective or current employee poses on the job.  Yet even the assumption that the existence of a criminal record accurately predicts negative work behavior is subject to some debate; one limited study questions whether the two are, in fact, empirically related.  The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety.

Not only is it a matter of public safety to ensure that all workers have job opportunities, but it is also critical for the struggling economy. No healthy economy can sustain such a large and growing population of unemployable workers, especially in those communities already hard hit by joblessness. Indeed, the impact on the economy is staggering. The cost of corrections at each level of government has increased 660 percent from 1982 to 2006, consuming $68 billion a year, and the reduced output of goods and services of people with felonies and prison records is estimated at between $57 and $65 billion in losses. 

Work gives hope.

Tomorrow, I will be sharing more about the barriers to employment for folks with criminal records, as well as a campaign to limit and end this form of legal discrimination that is hurting all of us.  Please come back tomorrow to read the post.

And please check back later for a story from Jeff.  It will be well worth your time!

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