Jobs after jail: Ending the prison to poverty pipeline

About 70 million people in the U.S have a felony or serious misdemeanor arrest or a conviction that could impact their ability to find a job – locking a big part of our country out of stable, good-paying employment.

For many, their prison record will be a life sentence to poverty and low wages.

A new report by the Alliance for a Just Society, Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline, analyzes the impact of policies that reduce employment opportunities for people who have served jail or prison sentences.

According to Jobs After Jail, nationwide there are more than 6,000 mandatory employment restrictions employment restrictions facing people who have served their sentence.

The findings underscore the urgency to “ban the box” in every state and at the federal level. However, the Jobs After Jail 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.

“A history of racism in the United States means that people of color are more likely to be poorer than their white counterparts,” said Jill Reese, associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society.

“They are also more likely to be incarcerated and to face harsher sentences. The impact on communities of color is devastating when so many people are cut off from good jobs after their release,” said Reese.

Jobs after Jail includes first-person stories from formerly incarcerated people about the hurdles of finding a job, getting to work with restrictions on driving, checking “the box” on a college application, and juggling two or three low wage jobs to make ends meet.

“Our research shows that every state has jobs that formerly incarcerated people are banned from holding,” said Allyson Fredericksen, the Alliance’s policy analyst and author of the report. “Some states have more than 200 restricted jobs – and Louisiana has 389 restrictions. The result is a vast number of people who are sentenced to poverty.”

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.

Alliance for a Just Society is a national organization that focuses on social, racial and economic justice.