70 million Americans hindered by criminal record, report says
A recent collaborative study found surprising similarities in the rate of incarceration among predominantly-Black urban communities and predominantly-White rural areas, and linked it to the economic impact of incarceration on society as a whole.
Researchers Howard Henderson, Ph.D., a professor at the historically-Black Texas Southern University, and Stephen G. Van Geem, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the mainly rural-White Utah State University, found that former offenders of both demographics suffer incarceration, unemployment and recidivism at nearly identical proportions, according to an op-ed in The Hill.
Henderson and Van Geem published the study during Second Chance Month, which raises awareness of the consequences of criminal convictions.
The pair cited research from the Society of Human Research Management, which found that 90% of employers conduct criminal background checks when hiring, rejecting out-of-hand any applicant with even a minor arrest record. As a result, the unemployment rate for those with non-violent offenses is roughly 38%, significantly higher than that of the general population, they reported.
There are more than 70 million people in America with a criminal record, according to the study. Nine million of those have a felony conviction, and 113 million Americans have someone in their immediate family who has spent time in jail or prison.
Henderson and Van Geem estimate shutting former prisoners out of the workforce costs America’s GDP between $78 and $87 billion per year. Businesses across the country are experiencing labor shortages, which in turn drives inflation and supply chain problems, the authors report.
“This reality is far more than a mere statistic for many areas of the country,” they said. “They feel the effects of its consequences every day.”
There are now a number of local, state and federal government efforts aimed at bringing former offenders back to the labor force. Many laws and programs have already been enacted—with more to come—offering work and vocational training, education, and expanded “Ban the Box” protections to those with criminal records. Henderson and Van Geem also urge Congress to pass the Clean Slate Act, automatically sealing minor, nonviolent offense records.
“Given the results of our study,” they wrote, “it is no longer a surprise why the majority of the country supports criminal justice reform, including across party lines and within the 100 wealthiest and 100 poorest congressional districts. They know that it will have a sizable benefit for their local communities.”
“Employment gives ex-offenders purpose and hope that allows them to feel part of the community again,” the editorial says.
The need for criminal justice reform, according to Henderson and Van Geem, exceeds urban or rural demographics, transcends Black and White, and surpasses the limitations of Blue or Red politics.