Americans Struggle to Find Employment After Incarceration

Each year, more than 600,000 ex-offenders are released from state and federal prisons and back into society. Many of them will face unique challenges in regaining some semblance of normal life and becoming meaningful and contributing citizens, however. For example, people with criminal records in West Virginia simply find it impossible to get hired. States like these with few laws on hiding criminal backgrounds prevent people from ever starting up their careers again.

The crux of many ex-offenders struggles to reintegrate back into society lies directly with their difficulties in finding adequate employment. Their inability to find jobs and support themselves satisfactorily puts them at risk of re-offending and going back to prison.

The Necessity of Gainful Employment after Prison

While some ex-offenders are required to get and keep jobs as part of their parole terms, most simply want to get back to work and start living a normal life again. This fact is particularly true for those who did not commit violent crimes, such as rape, murder, or assault, and instead were sent to prison for offenses like white-collar crimes, driving while intoxicated, or vandalism.

When they fail to land adequate employment right out of prison, other aspects of their lives are directly impacted. Their unemployment can compromise their ability to enjoy basic necessities that others take for granted, such as:

  • Suitable housing
  • Sufficient medical care
  • Voting rights
  • Access to regular meals
  • Proper hygiene

When they cannot find anyone to hire them, ex-offenders may feel more desperate and possibly even inclined to commit crimes that could land them back in jail.

Even so, they cannot hide their past criminal histories, even if those histories show offenses that did not result in personal damages or the loss of life. Employers are able to run background checks on every job applicant. Many, when they see applicants with criminal histories, are more apt to turn away ex-offenders than hire them.

Recidivism among Minority Ex-offenders

The denial of meaningful employment typically takes a harsher toll on minority ex-offenders than White ex-felons. In fact, a recent study showed that the recidivism rate among minorities stood at around 58 percent. This statistic means that close to two-thirds of Black, Hispanic, and other minority ex-offenders are sent back to prison in part or directly because they cannot find suitable employment and integrate back into society in a productive and meaningful way.

The recidivism rate is compounded even more by racism that minority ex-felons may face in the job market. Combined, the two factors can be nearly insurmountable for some newly released ex-offenders to find work and avoid committing new crimes that send them back to prison.

Options for Moving Forward

Politicians have been made aware of the challenges that ex-felons face as they go back into society and try to find jobs to sustain themselves. Some leaders in office have taken initiatives like passing legislation directly encouraging employers to hire non-violent ex-felons. Companies that give ex-felons chances at employment benefit from tax breaks and other incentives that are designed to make hiring such individuals lucrative.

Even with this kind of legislation, however, some ex-offenders have no choice but to work multiple part-time jobs to earn enough money and afford housing, healthcare, and other necessities. They must rely on this part-time employment until they can expunge their records, if eligible, and pass employers’ background checks.

Release back into society is something that most felons look forward to when they finish serving their time behind bars. However, this opportunity is often fraught with challenges in finding suitable employment. Lack of jobs puts ex-felons at risk of re-offending and going back to prison and bars them from accessing necessities like housing needed to rebuild their lives.