Washington, D.C. — As many as one in three Americans have some type of criminal record. Yet having any kind of criminal history—even for minor offenses or an arrest without a conviction—can create lifelong barriers that can stand in the way of basic necessities such as employment and housing. This has broad implications, not only for the millions of individuals who are prevented from moving on with their lives and becoming productive citizens but also for their families, communities, and the nation’s economy. If not for recent trends in mass incarceration, our nation’s poverty rate would have fallen by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004, a recent study found.
A new report released today by the Center for American Progress highlights how mass incarceration and criminal records serve as underappreciated drivers of poverty and inequality by presenting barriers to employment, housing, public assistance, education and training, building good credit, and more. The report offers a road map of policy recommendations to ensure that Americans with criminal records have a fair shot at making a decent living, providing for their families, and joining the middle class.
“Removing barriers to opportunity for people with criminal records has the potential to make a huge dent in the poverty rate and to save taxpayer dollars,” said Rebecca Vallas, Associate Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP and a co-author of the report. “And with policymakers and opinion leaders across the political spectrum calling for criminal justice reform and second-chance policies, it’s a strategy that has the potential to get bipartisan support.”
“The Obama administration and a growing number of states and cities have taken important and praiseworthy steps to reverse this harmful trend, but there’s more that we can and must do—at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as in the private sector—to ensure that all Americans have a fair shot at making a decent living, providing for their families, and joining the middle class,” Vallas continued.
“On a daily basis, I see people thwarted at every turn because of their criminal records,” said Sharon Dietrich, litigation director at Community Legal Services and a co-author of the report. “Because of ill-conceived public policies, people can be trapped in a lifetime of poverty because of a single error in judgment.”
CAP’s report offers a road map of policy recommendations for the Obama administration, Congress, states and localities, employers, and colleges and universities to ensure that having a criminal record does not pose lifelong obstacles to economic security and mobility. Recommendations include:
- Enabling Americans with minor, nonviolent criminal records to obtain a clean slate upon rehabilitation, permitting them to redeem themselves and move on with their lives after they pay their debt to society
- Enacting fair-chance hiring policies to ensure that people with criminal records have a fair shot at employment opportunities, as well as subsidized jobs to help returning citizens reattach to the labor force
- Enacting fair-chance housing policies to ensure that a criminal record does not stand in the way of safe and stable housing or family reunification
- Investing in prison education and removing barriers to education and job training for people with criminal records
- Reforming criminal justice debt policies so that crushing fees and fines do not hobble people’s chances at re-entry and economic security
- Reforming child support policies to boost collections and improve outcomes for formerly incarcerated parents and families
- Implementing smart-on-crime reforms to reduce incarceration at the state and federal levels, while maintaining and even enhancing public safety and improving the future outlook for individuals and communities
Today, CAP will convene a conversation with leading criminal justice experts to explore how mass incarceration and hyper-criminalization have become major drivers of poverty and inequality and what can be done to remove obstacles to economic security and mobility for people with criminal records. Click here to learn more about the event and to watch the livestream video.
Click here to read “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records” by Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich.
For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Allison Preiss at 202.478.6331 or gro.ssergorpnacirema@ssierpa.