Millions of people in America are living with an arrest or a criminal conviction. In fact, one in three adults in America has a criminal record. Nearly five decades of punitive criminal justice policies that has created a culture of mass incarceration.
People with arrest and conviction records are routinely blocked from getting jobs, housing and educational opportunities by federal, state, and local legal restrictions because of these records. Around the country, there are nearly 50,000 such legal restrictions. They drive re-arrest and significantly contribute to high rates of re-arrest and re-incarceration of people who have been released from prison.
Some 650,000 Americans return to their communities from prison each year. About half of them will return to prison within a few years. These people need gainful employment, suitable housing, and educational opportunities to build stability and find success after incarceration.
Because of pervasive discrimination against people with a criminal record, nearly 75 percent of formerly incarcerated people are still unemployed a year after release. A lack of stable employment increases the likelihood that an individual will return to jail or prison. In fact, research has found that joblessness is the single most important predictor of recidivism.
The impact on Black and Latino communities has been particularly destructive. Pervasive racial disparities in the criminal justice system exacerbate bias in the employment arena. For African Americans, the adverse effect of a criminal record on getting a job interview is 40 percent greater than for white Americans with similar histories.
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is working to expand the rights of people who have been released. If prison is meant to rehabilitate people, then rehabilitation and support must extend beyond the prison walls and into the re-entry process. Removing punitive restrictions on housing and employment and creating programs that support people with arrest and conviction records as they reintegrate into society will lower recidivism rates and reduce the prison population as a whole. It is also the sensible and the just thing to do.