The Prison Policy Initiative recently published an article highlighting the significant barriers to employment facing formerly incarcerated individuals. The data show that formerly incarcerated people have the same desire to find work as the general population. They are largely prevented from doing so by public policies, biases and practices that create countless barriers. Similar issues face those seeking housing following reentry. The good news is that some basic policy changes could significantly improve their chances of success.
Housing and employment are two key components of successful reentry. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is five times higher than the general population. Even during the current favorable economic climate the rate remains much higher than the worst years of the Great Depression. Research suggests that a criminal record reduces employers’ callback rates by 50%. Housing applicants face similar issues. Once a background check reveals a criminal conviction applicants are routinely rejected from obtaining a job or an apartment. Fortunately, some progress is being made in these areas.
In early 2018 Washington State passed “Ban the Box” legislation for employment and the City of Seattle passed similar legislation for housing applications. These laws prevent prospective employers and landlords from asking about criminal backgrounds on initial applications. Once the applicant is deemed qualified the employer or landlord must be informed about the applicant’s background and circumstances. Justice-involved individuals have reported that these laws allow every person to tell his or her individual story and improve their chances of success.
Much more needs to be done on both the state and national levels to allow people a fair chance to become productive members of the families and communities. This is only possible when we allow them to address their basic need for housing and employment.