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SEATTLE – Each year an average of 630,000 people are released from state and federal prisons – for many, their prison record will be a life sentence of poverty and low wages.
In addition to facing “the box” on job applications that asks about being convicted of a crime, they also face a raft of state restrictions banning them from certain occupations. Every state in the country bans formerly incarcerated people from specific jobs. Washington bars them from 96 jobs, often good-paying jobs. In Seattle, by a law passed last year, an employer cannot inquire about an applicant’s criminal history, until the employer has screen applicants based on qualifications..
Today, Washington Community Action Network and OneAmerica are releasing Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline. The report by the Alliance for a Just Society, analyzes the impact of policies that limit employment opportunities for people who have served jail or prison sentences.
“It’s been an uphill battle to find a job after being released from jail last year,” said Gregory Boris who is featured in the report. “I knew it would be hard, especially for me because I have gang tattoos but I have been upfront about my past with potential employers.”
In the report, Boris tells of his struggle to find work even though he was candid in interviews. He applied to dozens of jobs for weeks without anything to show for it.
“Most people would have given up by this time and gone back to their old ways,” said Boris. “I was determined to turn my life around.” Boris has now returned to school full time.
“A sense of urgency is growing across the nation to support ban the box laws that close the doors for opportunity to many formerly incarcerated members of our communities,” said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz, “Combined with the racially disproportionate impact of mass incarceration, ending this form of discrimination is central to addressing racial and income inequality in America. Too many of our community members are unable to realize their potential or support their families, and that’s a loss we all bear.”
About 70 million people in the U.S have a felony or serious misdemeanor arrest or conviction that could impact their ability to find a job, locking a big part of our country out of stable, good-paying employment.
“People leave jail or prison with debt from their incarceration, then face dramatic hurdles finding work that pays,” said Jill Reese, associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “A history of racism in the United States means that people of color are more likely to be poorer and face harsher sentences than their white counterparts. They are also more likely to be incarcerated, face harsher sentences and be cut off from good jobs after their release.”
Recommendations from the report include:
- Eliminate lifetime legislative bans to employment
- Ban the box – the question about convictions on job applications.
- Reform policies on court fines and fees and incarceration fees that leave people deep in debt after they are released.
- Invest in businesses that pay high wages and employ formerly incarcerated people.
Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline is part of the Job Gap Economic Prosperity series on jobs and wages produced by the Alliance since 1999.
With over 44,000 members, Washington Community Action Network is the state’s largest grassroots community organization. Together we work to achieve racial, social, and economic justice in our state and nation. Our strength as an organization depends on our members’ involvement. We believe that we can only achieve our goals when people take action for justice.
OneAmerica is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advances the fundamental principles of democracy and justice by building power within immigrant communities.
Alliance for a Just Society is a national organization that focuses on social, economic and racial justice issues.