The goal behind incarceration, at least in theory, is rehabilitation. A person who has committed a crime serves a sentence, pays a “debt to society,” and rejoins, ready to be a productive member of the group. That’s hardly the way the process typically plays out.
“There are both hard and soft challenges,” JeffKorzenik, author of Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community, told BOSS. “The hard challenges generally fit into what are called collateral consequences. These are punishment beyond punishment. Even when you have fulfilled your sentence, you still have barriers.”
There are restrictions on the types of work ex-convicts can get (via occupational license requirements), barriers to where they can live and the type of assistance they can receive. There are more than 40,000 regulatory collateral consequences at the state level across the U.S. Outside of legal framework, a criminal record often attaches itself to people like a scarlet letter.
“In many ways the bigger barriers are the soft barriers,” he said. “These revolve around the stigma. Employers simply don’t want to hire people with criminal records in many cases. Even if they are complying with the letter of the law, with fairness, review, and consideration, people with records become either completely excluded or the employee of last resort.”
As Korzenik, also the chief investment strategist for one of the country’s largest commercial banks points out, this stigma hurts not only the formerly incarcerated people trying to reintegrate into society, but the rest of society too.
THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED
More than 76% of people released from state prisons are rearrested within five years, a watershed Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found. “That gives you an idea of the magnitude of the failure,” Korzenik said. Your first instinct might be to place the blame for that failure on the individuals. That misses the point. Clearly, the system isn’t living up to the ideals of successfully reintegrating prisoners into society.
Prison Policy Initiative analysis shows 27% of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed, and the unemployment rate in the first year after release can be north of 50%, Korzenik said. “It’s a tremendous waste of talent. But it also leads to … if you don’t give people the opportunity to rebuild their lives legally, then they tend to do so illegally.”
The three areas of crime that account for the most prisoners in the U.S. are violent offenses — often connected to the drug trade — property crime, and drug-related offenses — overwhelmingly, dealing.
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