Discrimination On Ex Offenders Essay Example
The United States incarcerates more people than all other countries and is currently the leader in prison population rate. Post-incarceration, former prisoners face social consequences from their civil penalties of the past.
This paper will address that convicts who served their sentences and are no longer subject to state supervision may encounter employment and housing discrimination, and the inability to qualify for Public Housing and Welfare Benefits, which contribute to health disparities.
Starting in the 1970s, Nixon’s Administration began the war on drugs, causing the prison population in the United States to increase exponentially. Though President Nixon started the trend, the prison population soared under President Reagan. At the start of Reagan’s first term, the prison population stood at 329,000. Eight years later at the end of his second term, the number nearly doubled to 627,000. During Clinton’s Administration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 became law and further bloated the prison population. The bill provided billions of dollars as funds to incentivize state and local governments to build more prisons and jails, and simultaneously enacted other measures such as increased length of prison sentences and reduced possibility of early release. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, United States’ federal and state correctional authorities held jurisdiction over a total of 1,430,805 people in the end of 2019.
The war on drugs and tough on crime policies impact minority groups, specifically people who identify as Black or Hispanic, to a greater extent. In 2019, out of the total of 1,430,805 prisoners, White people accounted for 422,800 (29.5%) of the prison population, Black people 452,800 (31.6%), and Hispanic people 320,700 (22.4%). Comparing these numbers to the percent that each group represents in the total population of the U.S., White people account for 60.1%, Black for 13.4%, and Hispanic for 18.5%. The statistics demonstrate the inequality of the prison population regarding race, as both Blacks and Hispanics account for a larger percent of the prison population than the total U.S. population, while Whites account for a much smaller percent of the prison population than the total U.S. population.
Formerly incarcerated people require employment for the same reasons as everyone else: to support themselves and their families. Research also suggests that a stable job is the most important factor to reduced recidivism rates. In other words, employment status could determine whether a formerly incarcerated person returns to prison. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is nearly five times larger than the general population, indicating that they are unemployed and actively searching for employment. Regardless of their desire to work, applying as “formerly incarcerated” reduces their chance of employment.
Formerly incarcerated people face a myriad of barriers when seeking employment, many of which are legal. Barriers to unemployment arise in the form of statutory prohibitions on hiring ex-offenders in certain fields or laws forbidding licensing boards to distribute licenses to ex-offenders. Private employers may require review of criminal records before hiring. Occupational licensing bans vary from state to state, with half the states denying applications only if the applicant’s committed offense relates to the related occupation. The other half of states lack clear policies, which typically leaves jurisdiction to the licensing boards. A formerly incarcerated person could invest money into their application and wait upwards of one year for the state board to review their criminal record for licensing, and still be disqualified.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides some protection to ex-offender minorities when the discriminating employment policy creates a disparate racial impact. Thus, before disqualifying ex-offenders, employers must show that it is a “business necessity.” Elena Saxonhouse argues that “if ex-offenders have few places to turn for legal assistance with such claims, the favorable EEOC interpretation loses some significance.”
In the Supreme Court case, Hawker v. New York, the Supreme Court upheld a New York state law preventing convicted felons from practicing medicine. The reasoning of Hawker upholds the notion that there is a connection between public health and safety and employment law that differentiates people with felony charges from people without. Another Supreme Court case, Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, derived that a state cannot exclude a person from any occupation without due process. But a state licensing board has jurisdiction to require certain qualifications, such as good moral character, which can evaluate on former arrests or convictions.
These exclusionary employment laws in the United States lead to unequal employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, which may affect their ability to provide themselves and their families with food, shelter, and other necessities, and increases their likelihood of returning to prison.
Housing is a basic necessity, but the ability of private housing to deny applicants with criminal records and public housing bans leave a disproportionate amount of formerly incarcerated people without shelter.
Private landlords screen applicants based on criminal history, credit history, work history, references, and income. Housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act only covers discrimination of buyers or renters based on race, color, national origin, sex, family status, or disability, so protection does not extend to discrimination of formerly incarcerated people solely based on their criminal record.
If a formerly incarcerated person committed their crime at a young age, they may not have had the opportunity to accrue credit. More commonly, a prison sentence will significantly drop one’s credit score if the prisoner does not pay or plan for a trusted family member or friend to pay for their bills while in prison. Mortgage and car payments continue to bill, as well as any other subscriptions, and will leave the prisoner with little money and/or a decreased credit score and debt upon release.
Employment history is problematic as the formerly incarcerated person likely last worked before their prison sentence. As covered in the previous section on employment, formerly incarcerated people struggle to find a steady job, which complicates adding to their work history, proving stable income, and finding references. Other than employers, applicants often choose colleagues, former landlords, or property managers as their references, and recommendations urge an applicant to not use friends or family members. For a formerly incarcerated person, the advised references may pose difficulty.
(Author of Civil Penalties, Social Consequences) asserts that “in competitive and expensive housing markets especially, the returning offender does not rise to the top of a landlord’s list of desirable tenants.” When one cannot find housing privately or cannot afford the prices, they turn to public housing.
Depending on their crime or the state in which they reside, ex-convicts may qualify for public housing. Like private housing, applying for public housing subjects individuals to background checks as screening criteria to determine qualified applicants. Unfortunately, harsh barriers exist for specific charges, especially those with drug related felonies. In the past, federal blanket bans on certain felonies automatically disqualified many formerly incarcerated, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development removed them in 2016. But Federal law still allows discrimination against anyone convicted of a drug manufacturing or distribution charge.
Much of Housing and Urban Development and Section 8 programs are subject to the individual state and county, and therefore different states disqualify applicants for different crimes. Currently, the Allegheny County Housing Authority outlines five-to-ten-year bans depending on the crime, with drug offenses of either possession of a controlled substance or possession of marijuana (charged as either a misdemeanor or felony) as a five-year ban, and manufacturing or possession with the intent to sell as a ten-year ban. Slight variances exist between different counties and states but bans like Allegheny County’s policy on drug offenses are standard.