Opinion: Out of Jail, Into a Job


By Timothy P. Silard 

There's no mystery about one of the most effective ways to end mass incarceration in America: reducing recidivism. More than three-quarters of those who have served time in prison are rearrested within two years. And it's equally clear that formerly incarcerated people who are employed are far less likely to end up back behind bars.

Yet the path back to a stable life can be incredibly tough for formerly incarcerated people. People with prison records face extraordinarily high levels of discrimination when it comes to finding and keeping the jobs that will help them reclaim their lives. This is true even though they have already paid their debt to society, and even though most of them have served their time for minor, nonviolent drug and property crimes. Studies have shown that people coming out of jail face unemployment rates as high as 70 to 80 percent.

And while restoring the rights and opportunities of formerly incarcerated people is a critical public-safety and public-health issue, it's also an issue of racial justice: African Americans and Latinos currently make up 59 percent of the more than 1.3 million state inmates.

We all pay the price when a formerly incarcerated person can't find a job and lead a productive life. Without the proper support, it is a good bet that an individual will end up back behind bars at a cost to taxpayers averaging more than $30,000 a year nationally, more than $60,000 a year in New York state and more than $75,000 a year in California. The good news is that over the last decade, a movement led by formerly incarcerated people has been working to advance employment opportunities for people returning from prisons and jail -- and winning.

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