Saturday, July 23, 2005

Prison, Unemployment and Communities

Many American companies have adopted a "zero tolerance" policy regarding criminal conviction and incarceration when it comes to hiring new employees.

Forty-six million people in the U. S. have been convicted of something at some time in their lives, this according to FBI records. If all of these workers were removed from the economy, the impact would be huge.

The fact is many of these ex-incarcerated individuals have been removed from the economy.

The statistical story breaks sharply along racial lines. Compared to white males, five times as many Blacks and two times as many Hispanics have been behind bars.

"A recent study of entry-level applicants conducted at Northwestern University suggests that if a black male applicant has a prison record, the likelihood that the prospective employer will call back diminishes by two-thirds, and for white males, by one-half." (Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2004, pages B1, B3)

It is clear the current system is not working.

On any given day 2.1 million Americans are behind bars--nearly seven times as many as thirty years ago. The vast majority are there because of some drug-related offense. A large majority now locked up will return to prison after their next release.

The costs associated with maintaining this extremely ineffective system is second only to Medicaid in terms of annual growth of expenses for state budgets. The current system soaks up billions of dollars that could be directed toward more productive purposes.

Nearly half of those locked up for the first time were barely employable before being convicted. According to a recent report nearly half earned less than $600 a month. A criminal record makes these workers even less likely to be able to earn a living.

Add in the problems of mental illness, addiction and the almost complete lack of post-release social services, and we have a situation guaranteed to continue producing failure after failure.

Worst of all, the outcome in the neighborhoods of cities like Dallas is tragic. Male leadership is lost to our communities. Families are crushed. Children are left fatherless. Crime escalates. The economy suffers. Our educational system is adversely affected. And nothing improves.

There must be a better way.

We should demand a better way.

1 comment:

owldog said...

I have to comment on this from "insurance”: point of view. Another one of society ills is its litigious nature.

I work with so many companies that would LOVE to be able to hire a person with a record and give them a chance. If that person is involved in an ACCIDENT which becomes a lawsuit their record comes out and the juries award lots of money to the injured party because the company "negligently" hired someone with a record. It is horrible but so true and at this point of time there is no answer.