Brennan Center Highlights Impact of Criminal Records on the Economy
Date:  01-22-2013

Comments to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights focus on discrimination, and the negative impact on the economy and public safety
On January 5, Reentry Central posted an article which announced the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) was seeking comments from the public on criminal background checks, and whether the checks thwart employment opportunities for those with a criminal background, including an arrest, but not a conviction.

The article included the following information provided by Mark Maurer, executive director of The Sentencing Project:

  • Nearly one in three American adults is arrested by age 23.

  • Many of those who have been arrested (and thus have a “criminal record” that could appear on a criminal background check) have never been convicted of a crime.

  • Black workers are disproportionately impacted by criminal background checks, reflecting disparities in the criminal justice system and racial bias among employers. Research has documented that African Americans with no felony convictions are no more likely to receive a callback or job offer as whites with a felony record.

  • Employment is essential for people who have broken the law and are trying to reenter society. Barring such people from getting a job increases the odds that they will commit another crime.

  • The bottom line is that people should have the opportunity for employment in jobs for which they are qualified and for which their criminal record is irrelevant. The overly broad use of criminal background checks by employers has a disproportionate impact on people of color.

    On January 17, in response to the solicitation of comments, Inimai Chettiar, Nicole Austin-Hillery, Thomas Giovanni, and Meghna Giovanni of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School sent their views to the USCCR.

    The Brennan Centers states that new guidance limiting how employers can use a person’s criminal history in deciding whether to hire a job applicant “help downsize the huge fiscal, economic, and social costs of discrimination against those with criminal records,” adding, “At the same time the U.S. is spending billions of dollars to maintain [its] system of mass incarceration, it is losing as much or more in revenue and labor due to restrictive employment practices that bar individuals with criminal backgrounds from obtaining stable employment.”

    Recognizing that people with criminal history face barriers to employment, resulting in a negative impact on the economy and public safety, Chettiar, Austin-Hillery, Giovanni, and Philip wrote:

    “Although targeted by these discriminatory policies, the formerly incarcerated and communities of color do not suffer alone. All Americans are pulled down into this systemic quagmire. The inability to gain stable, respectable work, or to secure educational opportunities, leads directly to recidivism, reducing public safety. Policies that needlessly restrict a formerly incarcerated person’s ability to work have had the unintended consequence of placing greater fiscal burdens on limited government resources. The loss of so many potential workers has a significant negative impact on the economy at large. Further, stable employment opportunities are one of the pillars upon which crime reduction policies must be constructed. Failing to provide appropriate employment opportunities to those with criminal records will undoubtedly increase crime and incarceration rates and associated costs.”
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