‘More support of government efforts by voters would help’
With the number of jobs scant and new job creation scarce nationwide, future employment for some ex-offenders is harder than it is for others, according to a recent study.
Finding work after prison “is not equally distributed across race and ethnic groups,” according to the study Criminal Stigma, Race, Gender, and Employment: An Expanded Assessment of the Consequences of Imprisonment for Employment. The authors of the study are Scott H. Decker, Ph.D., Cassia Spohn, Ph.D, Natalie Ro Ortiz, M.S., and Eric Hedberg, PhD., who used funds provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.
It is more difficult for African-Americans and Hispanics to find a job after being released from prison than for whites, the study finds. “Further complicating the problem is the fact that these two minority groups comprise the largest and fastest-growing segment of the prison population.”
Gainful employment is a major component for a sound re-entry, the study finds. However, what is missing are the particular skills ex-offenders need to meet market demands. Additionally, ex-offenders suffer from their criminal past, as researchers have discovered a symbiotic relationship between criminality and the unskilled worker.
The lack of gainful employment is also a major concern to public safety officials, according to the study. Without access to resources that will lead to the training needed to compete in today’s job market, ex-offenders are likely to return to criminal behavior, various studies show. The data shows that men and women who have a prison record do far worse attaining gainful employment than those without a record.
What these men and women need is vocational training as well as training in online application processes and creating a resume, the study concludes.
The lack of community involvement also factors into high percentages of recidivism, the study shows.
The community needs to become more aware that men and women in prison will be returning to society at some point. There needs to be a better understanding and willingness by community members to give ex-offenders a chance to succeed.
Various efforts are underway to ease hindrances against ex-offenders. One taking root nationwide is a campaign called Ban-the-Box. The campaign stops employers from asking an applicant to disclose whether they have a felony conviction on job applications.
“More support of government efforts by voters would help to begin finding resolution to this problem,” said Kim Richman, Ph.D, professor of sociology and legal studies, at the University of San Francisco. “Our local business owners and their employees need to be willing to give these men and women opportunities to succeed. They set the tone as to whether or not a chance should be given to those returning home. Ban-the-Box is a step in that direction.”
Ban-the-Box has been implemented in several cities in California, including Oakland and Richmond.
However, Richman noted, “There is a lack of policies supporting these efforts, and there are laws that place barriers on development of these programs that really don’t need to be there.”
Aside from legislative barriers, there is the issue of community acceptance of these programs in their neighborhoods. Re-entry programs, while seen as a major conduit for returning ex-offenders and their successful re-socialization, often must deal with the indifference of the community, the study says.
San Francisco has assembled a Re-entry Council to assist ex-offenders once released from jail or prison. The council consists of the mayor, district attorney, chief public defender, sheriff and chief of police, a judicial appointee and the public health representative.
San Francisco city has implemented programs that begin with stable living conditions for ex-offenders. Ex-offenders are taught how to prepare resumes. Employment is sought for the ex-offender through a network of professional and private entrepreneurs.
Recently the County of Santa Clara began a similar program using the Reentry Council of San Francisco’s model.