Jay Jordan’s story is an example of the barriers the formerly incarcerated face when trying to make a new life outside of prison.
He was paroled in 2011 following seven years in prison. He filled out 30 applications as a barber, a skill he learned while locked up. He remained unemployed. Everywhere he went, his past convictions stopped employers from even considering him, reports Kay Wicker for thinkprogress.org.
These circumstances are anything but unusual. One in five Californians have convictions, according to a report published by Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), an organization for which Jordan now works.
The report showed that a “vast majority have never done any time,” but their convictions are barring them from living a productive life. In fact, nearly 75 percent of parolees are unemployed a year after they are released.
A conviction in California can act as a barrier for attaining safe housing, public benefits and gainful employment. It also complicates issues of immigration and can negatively affect one’s health, medical or mental, according to the article.
Jordan managed to turn his frustrations into activism, taking on a number of jobs involving community organizing or political campaigns before CSJ hired him in 2016. However, employment was only one of his hurdles.
He and his wife cannot apply for adoption because of his conviction. They bought a home recently, but Jordan is not allowed to join the Home Owners’ Association. They have discussed a dream of starting a company, but Jordan cannot apply for licensing.
“I’m affected by every other (barrier),” said Jordan.
The CSJ report shows the systemic marginalization of living with convictions.
“A wealth of evidence indicates educational programming is one of the most effective approaches to reducing recidivism,” reported CSJ. “Still, individuals with convictions, particularly if they have been incarcerated, must overcome significant obstacles in accessing educational and vocational training programs.”
Approximately 40 percent of those incarcerated nation-wide do not have a GED or a high school diploma, and 46 percent have no secondary education. This hinders access to jobs, making it harder to reestablish community ties and abstain from criminal behavior. Those who make it into colleges or technical schools still face massive systemic hurdles in completing their degrees. For example, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VC- CLEA) prohibits the incarcerated from getting Pell Grants, which do not need to be repaid, unlike loans, noted the CSJ study. Additionally, those who committed drug offenses while receiving federal financial aid are no longer eligible for “federal financial aid to attend an institute of higher learning.”
The CSJ report, which Jordan helped compose, is the first step in a campaign called Time Done, which hopes to clear a path toward sunsetting convictions.
“This is not about shorter sentences,” Jordan said.” This is about people who are out and have served their time, have paid their debts and remain crime-free and have proven they can live in society and be productive. All we are saying is, ‘Let’s not put our foot on their necks as a country.’”