Monthly Archive: August 2021

Job Search for Ex-Offenders

Every year, over 600,000 persons are released from the different incarceration facilities all over the country. Around 70 million (one out of every three Americans of working age) Americans possess one form of criminal record or the other.

Getting a job may sometimes ordinarily be difficult, especially when coupled with the fact that the applicant has a criminal record. For an ex-offender getting a job is immensely beneficial because of the following reasons:

  • It helps the ex-offender to feel a sense of responsibility for their ability to take care of their financial needs.
  • It keeps the ex-offender positively busy thereby effectively utilizing their time.
  • It helps the ex-offender to be reintegrated with society and away from criminal networks.
  • It reduces the chances of recidivism. 
  • It gives the individual a sense of accomplishment and pride in their abilities. 

Tips on How to Search for Job for Ex-Offenders

Getting a job after incarceration is often difficult, however, for ex-offenders, the following considerations may be taken to help in the search:

  • Ex-offenders are advised to begin informing friends, families, and interested persons of their need for a job. They may also contact employers, attend job fairs, and apply to jobs found in online banks. They may search for a transition job, which may not afford them good pay, or may not align with their long-term career objective, however, this will help them to begin the process of being reintegrated back to society.
  • In searching for a job, most application processes require the applicant to tick the box indicating their offender status. This may be discouraging, however, there has been a national campaign to “ban the box” and this has resulted in over 35 states and 150 cities promoting regulations that discourage inquiries into the criminal record of job applicants. These states include:

Arizona
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Georgia
Hawai’i
Illinois
Indiana
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana

Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York

North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Tennessee
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

Out of these 36 states, 14 states have further banned the box for private employers including Oregon, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii,Rhode Island,  Maryland,  New Mexico, Massachusetts, Minnesota,    Vermont, and Washington.

Applicants may take advantage of the opportunities provided by seeking jobs in these states where their qualifications would be given greater priority than their record and background history.

  • When drafting a resume, ex-offenders should take note to include any experience gained during their incarceration as this will point attention to the skill gained rather than the time spent incarcerated. Instead of indicating the prison facility where the time was spent, the state or county should be used as the location. In addition, the resume should be crafted in such a way as to focus more attention on the skills gained than on the chronology of their work experience .
  •  The U.S Equal employment opportunity commission advises employers to consider the nature of the crime, the nature of the job, and how long ago the crime was committed when considering applications from ex-offenders. In this regard, offenders may utilize this opportunity by making reference to the issues raised and pointing out the distance between the nature of the offense and the nature of the job required, as well as possible rehabilitation that has been undergone since the time of the commission of the crime.
  • Despite the presence of the “Ban the Box” regulation in any locality, the employer may still reserves the right to make inquiries as to the criminal history of the applicant later on in the hiring process, it would be important in this case to practice an acceptable way of answering the question if it should be asked, an ex-offender is advised to, be honest, keep the answer simple, accept responsibility for the wrong and emphasize on any self-development progress or positive strides made since being released and a desire to apply skills learned to the job role.
  • It may benefit ex-offenders to locate and join any local community organization that specializes in helping offenders get access to friendly employment opportunities or access to training that will help ex-offenders garner the adequate skills and resources needed to secure employment.

Existing Programs to assist Ex-Offenders with Job Search

The rate of unemployment, especially for ex-offenders poses a significant societal risk. This has encouraged the government and other institutions to come up with programs designed to encourage employers to take on the services of ex-offenders in their organizations. The following are some of the programs that could be taken advantage of:

  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit: This program created by the government is meant to encourage employers to employ a certain targeted group of persons with work entry barriers among which there is a category for ex-offenders. They provide a tax credit of up to $9,600 each year depending on the category the employee falls under within the targeted group.
  • Federal Bonding Program: This is a program set up by the U.S Department of Labour that seeks to indemnify at-risk employees. The bonds serve as a tool that assures the genuineness of job applicants who are perceived to be a threat. The program is made to reimburse the employer for any loss arising from an employee’s theft of money or property during the pendency of the employment relationship with the ex-offender.
  • Ban the Box: This is a program initiated by ex-offender advocates which encourages the government to ban the requirement of stating an offender status on the application form. This program has recorded huge success especially with its endorsement by the presidential directive to delay inquiries to the records of job applicants for federal agencies and the introduction of the Fair Chance Act. This campaign has also been accepted and backed by regulations in 36 states of the country and numerous cities and counties. It seeks to restrict the extent to which employers can inquire into the history of an ex-convict and at what point they are allowed to do so. 
  • Fair Chance Business Pledge: This initiative launched by the U.S. government is meant to inspire private business owners to remove hindrances on the journey to a second chance for ex-offenders. The companies who signed the pledge gave their support to:
    • Equal opportunity for all, including ex-offenders
    • Banning the Box
    • Offering equal internship opportunities for all categories of persons
    • Providing ex-offenders with the requirement for reintegration back to society.

Prison Education In The United States

The numbers are sobering, but the cost is even more sobering. The US correctional system holds an average of 2 million offenders every year. About 700,000 of these inmates are later released into their community every year. However, odds are 1 in 3 of these released persons will end up back in prison within three years of release – prisoner recidivism.

The reasons for prisoner recidivism are not elusive or unknown. Former inmates face several challenges after release, such as the inability to find gainful employment, secure housing, strained relation with family, depression, and other mental health issues. Worse still, after spending an average of three years in a prison yard, many of these former inmates do not know where to begin after release. Even though they think and talk about it during their time bars, the plan doesn’t always work out as they imagined.

So, many go back to what they knew best – boosting cars, small-time drug dealing, robbery, or anything that keeps them from starving. Eventually, they have a run-in with law enforcement and are soon back in prison. This cycle of arrest, imprisonment, release, and rearrest eventually adds up and hemorrhages taxpayer dollars.

To put it into perspective, consider the cost of primary and secondary education in US public schools and the cost of running prisons. The Bureau of Justice reported that the United States spends $80 billion annually. However, journalists and experts argue that this figure is a modest estimate of the actual cost of running US prisons – hidden costs that prisoners and their families bear silently.

That said, the cost of incarceration is $37,000 per offender per year. Conversely, the US Department of Education reported that the total cost of running primary and secondary schools is $14,439 per student per year. Ergo, it costs taxpayers over $23,000 to keep a person in jail than educate them.

Note that this is an average report. The disparity is wider in some states than in others. In New York, for example, the gap between education and prison costs is nearly $40,000 per prisoner per year. Kentucky is on the lowest end at a cost gap of about $5,000 per prisoner per year. Still, the difference is taxpayers’ money – better invested in healthcare and infrastructure – gulp by the prison system alone.  

Recognizing this disparity between prison and education costs, federal and state governments have attempted to close this gap with reformative sentencing policies – most notably in California – and allocating funding for correctional education. And it has been largely successful. A Bureau of Justice assistance project revealed that for every dollar the government spends on correctional education programs, taxpayers save an average of five dollars, as the government saves on the cost of housing and monitoring offenders. 

Correctional education, also known as education behind bars, is an opportunity for incarcerated persons to gain the necessary life skills that prepare them for success upon release.

Modern-day correctional education in America is traceable to the 1970s with the establishment of Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) programs for adult and juvenile inmates whose education had been truncated by policies that favor incarceration over reformative justice. There were also vocational training programs and higher education academic programs for inmates, albeit long-distance learning.

But prison education in the US has been around for over 200 years. The first education opportunity for prisoners was at Walnut Street Jail, Pennsylvania, in 1798. However, the program ended abruptly as the prison population soon ballooned out of control.

Although prison education programs that sprung in other parts of the country garnered support at first, support soon waned when the financial interests and legislative prioritization of punishment shifted from education and rehabilitation to crime control.

Since then, prison education in the United States has faced various challenges, from cuts in funding and a dramatic increase in prison population to deteriorating prison facilities. Put together, these challenges – alongside divisive politics – have reduced the quality and accessibility of education for incarcerated persons.  

Expert studies conclude that the probability of committing a crime reduces a person’s level of education and that better-educated incarcerated persons are less likely to return to prison. Put simply; education is an opportunity for a lifestyle change.

However, a report from the Colorado College reveals that budget constraints at the federal and state level have been so severe that many prison programs have received drastic cuts in funding. The most notable of these cuts is the 26-year ban on the Pell Grant for inmates. Without access to this financial aid, a college education is out of reach for incarcerated persons. Although Congress reinstated prisoner access to financial aid in December 2020, a significant challenge remains. There is not enough funding to go around due to a prison population that is out of control.

Even with funding, the dramatic increase in prison population puts a strain on prison education programs across the country.

US prison population has been out of control since 1971 when the legislature prioritized punishment over rehabilitation. As of 2020, mass incarceration – a remnant from the War on Drugs era – currently puts 1.3 million Americans in state prisons, 631,000 in local jails, and 226,000 in federal prisons. In total, there are some 2.3 million people in prison who need access to vocational or post-secondary education and rehabilitative services but not enough money to fund the necessary programs. After all, the bulk of funds allocated for correctional spending goes toward housing inmates.

But prisoners have other things on their minds when they are housed under poor conditions – like escaping prison violence from other inmates and correctional staff. There are 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,134 local jails in the United States. Studies show that these prisons are overcrowded. For example, Montana correctional system operates at more than double its design capacity as of 2020.

The future of prison education in the US correctional system lies in government commitment to reformative and sustainable policies – and, more importantly, action. For one, there must be changes in mass incarceration policies to reduce the strain on facilities and correctional education programs. Furthermore, state and federal legislature must perform their elective obligation to expand financial aid to prisoners seeking higher education behind bars. 

Of course, education alone will not solve the problems formerly incarcerated persons face upon release. Prisoners still need access to gainful employment, secure housing, affordable healthcare, and mental health services. Nevertheless, access to education during incarceration levels the ground for these persons to become productive members of society upon release.