Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline


State regulations bar formerly incarcerated workers from good jobs and a chance at stability. 

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. Some states bar them from hundreds of jobs, often good-paying jobs.

The report, Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline, released 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.

The findings underscore the urgency to "ban the box" in every state and at the federal level.  However, the research also clearly shows the critical need to change the thousands of laws nationwide that restrict job opportunities, and keep families and communities struggling.

A wide variety of jobs are barred, but depending on the state, they can include such work as a veterinarian, mortgage broker, or optometrist.

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 and limiting the buying power of our customer base.

“Having a criminal record doesn’t mean you’re a bad employee. In my experience, people with criminal records are often model employees. They are frequently the most dedicated and conscientious. A lot of doors are shut to them, so when someone give them an opportunity, they make the most of it,” said Jim Houser. “As a small business owner, I know that when people have opportunities to succeed the local community and economy thrives –and in turn my company thrives.” Jim Houser is the owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Oregon and he is a member of the Main Street Alliance National Executive Committee.

“Expanding job opportunities for workers with prior records is fair for our society and smart for our economy,” said Paul Heroux. “Making sure the path to employment is not blocked for people with records will restore dignity and hope to our communities. I should know. It made all the difference in the world to me.” Paul Heroux is a semi-retired painter/handyman, a felon rights advocate, and a veteran of the prison system.

“Small-business owners like me support policies that increase access to local employment and bring down jobless rates,” said Anthony James.  “We see the vicious cycle of incarceration and poverty in our communities. We see the effects of a flawed justice system and employment discrimination on our revenue sheets.” Anthony James is the owner of Kustom Sounds Studio in Longwood, Florida. 

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.

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