The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country worldwide. In the last two decades, the costs of incarceration have increased by more than 300 percent and the government now spends about $40 billion a year to maintain its prisons. In the first half of 2016, the USA saw an overall increase of 5.3% for violent crimes, bringing the total population of prisoners to over 2.3 million people. The negative impact of crime in the US economy is even worsened by its recidivism rates. According to a study done by the Bureau of Justice, 75% of released prisoners are rearrested within five years for a new crime.
Many experts and even the US government agree that employment may be a major key to solving and preventing the recidivism problem. Of the re-arrested felons included in the Bureau of Justice’s study, 89% of those convicts were unemployed. The longer that ex-felons go without a job with a living wage, the higher the risk that they eventually return to illegal ways to generate income.
“Hiring former inmates has benefited their communities in more ways than one,” according to Vanessa Albert, a San Diego criminal defense attorney. “Felons who are employed are less likely to fall into recidivism and instead impact their communities positively by being taxpayers.” The average cost of keeping one person in prison is around $30,000 a year. If that same ex-con lands a job, he or she can contribute more than $10,000 a year to the US economy in taxes.
The bias against hiring ex-convicts remains a problem, however. To address the problem, several states and cities have enacted Ban The Box and Fair Chance laws which prohibit employers to question applicants about previous convictions until they are ready to make a job offer. While all states still require disclosure of past convictions prior to hiring, the Ban The Box and Fair Chance legislations give ex-convicts a chance to put their foot through the door and impress a potential employer rather than getting an outright no. By decreasing the discrimination against those with a criminal past, these laws are able to increase employment opportunities for ex-offenders.
The Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit even grants as much as $2,400 in tax credits for employers for hiring former inmates. Several states provide training funds and partial salary reimbursement to these employers to promote the hireability of the growing population of ex-offenders. To encourage employers further, the federal government has set out a program that provides bonds for former inmates. The Federal Bonding Program costs nothing for businesses and protects them against theft owing from workers’ dishonesty. Parolees can also be drug tested by their probation officers at zero fees from the employer.
Statistically speaking, many ex-felons actually have good employment histories. Perhaps owing to the difficulty of finding a new job, ex-convicts become more loyal to their companies. They tend to stay longer than regular employees, thus saving companies thousands in the process of hiring and training new people. Life in prison can have strict schedules which produces punctual, obedient workers. The training programs provided inside correctional facilities help former offenders gain new skills that they can practice at work. Ex-felons who have been out of prison for seven to 10 years have the same crime probability rate as those without former offenses.
There are many programs across the US to help former convicts land employment in their communities. The National H.I.R.E. Network and America Works, for instance, help ex-offenders find available job openings in their areas. They provide supplies, training, and even follow up support once the job has been awarded. They also support any entrepreneurial ambitions that ex-convicts might have.