Monday, August 27, 2012

Redemption in an Era of Widespread Criminal Background Checks

In my continuing work in juvenile justice I recently came across an issue I would like to shine a light on. As Americans, we are working hard as a nation of states to prevent people who were ever arrested for a crime (not convicted, just arrested) from getting a job. Especially black people.

We want ex-offenders to work, to provide for their families, and to pay taxes, right?

Here are the first few paragraphs from an interesting article on the subject. (The full article is here: )
"I am writing this letter…out of desperation and to tell you a little about the struggles of re-entering society as a convicted felon." The letter came from a 30-year-old man who — in 2003, at age 21 — lost control of his car after a night of drinking, killing his close friend. "Jay" was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 38 months in state prison.

"I have worked hard to turn my life around. I have remained clean for nearly eight years, I am succeeding in college, and I continue to share my story in schools, treatment facilities and correctional institutions, yet I have nothing to show for it. … I have had numerous interviews and sent out more than 200 resumes for jobs which I am more than qualified. I have had denial after denial because of my felony." Jay ends the letter saying, "I do understand that you are not responsible for the choices that have brought me to this point. Furthermore, I recognize that if I was not abiding by the law, if I was not clean, and if I was not focusing my efforts toward a successful future, I would have no claim to make."

Jay's story is not unusual.

The article goes into an interesting study which is underway. Some of the preliminary findings of Blumstein and Nakamura are presented in their article: “Redemption in an Era of Widespread Criminal Background Checks”.

Here are some highlights:
  • 80 percent of U.S. employers perform criminal background checks on prospective employess.
  • Recidivism declines steadily with time clean.
  • For 18 year olds arrested in 1980 for robbery, the hazard rate for re-arrest declined to the same arrest rate as the general population in 7.7 years.
  • For arrest for burglary it took less time, 3.8 years.
  • For arrest for aggravated assault it took 4.3 years.

So our state laws should reflect this. Criminal records should be closed to employers after a certain time period so ex offenders can get jobs.

So what can you do?  Work to identify and change the laws in your state which are barriers to employment for people whose risk to reoffend is lower than the general populations’.

Monitor your state legislature, mayor and governor and work to prevent them from enacting knee-jerk, “tough on crime” laws which only hurt poor people and people of color.

If nothing else, pass this information on to your friends and acquaintances.

Thanks for reading this blog.


"The Alaska Rob Blog gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the video Criminal Background Checks and Hiring Ex-Offenders. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this video are those of the speaker(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice."

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