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Life After Felony Conviction How It Can Haunt You Getting Job

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If you wind up in prison in the U.S., your punishment doesn’t necessarily end the day you serve out your sentence and go home. Former inmates reentering society often get ensnared in a web of laws that dictate their post-prison lives, from where they can live, to what they can do for a living, to whether they can ever vote. In 2014, when the American Bar Association conducted a national survey of “collateral consequences” — legal restrictions imposed on people with criminal records — they found 44,500 different state and federal statutes.

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“Ban the box” and other “fair chance” hiring policies have been adopted with bipartisan support in 14 states, Washington DC, and 100 cities and counties so far

Georgia just became the latest state to ban the box. Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order on 23 February doing so because the policy will, in his words: “improve public safety, enhance workforce development, and provide increased state employment opportunities”. These policies are gaining momentum around the country because people are realizing how persistent joblessness translates into economic losses with far-reaching consequences. In 2008, the reduced job prospects of people with felony convictions cost the US economy between $57 and $65 bn in lost output. At the individual level, serving time reduces annual earnings for men by 40%, meaning families too often fall into a poverty trap.

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Despite broad consensus that ex-offenders need to be working, there is considerable disagreement over how best to accomplish this feat.(Sandra J. Mullings, Employment of Ex-Offenders) Employers often resist efforts to limit their ability to consider an individual’s criminal history out of fear that such restrictions could jeopardize workplace safety and expose them to negligent hiring claims.( Joe LaRocca, Erase the Box) Lawmakers, too, are often reluctant to push for legislation facilitating the employment of ex-offenders because they do not want to appear soft on crime

(Marc Mauer, Thinking About Prison and Its Impact in the Twenty-First Century) In fact, the vast majority of laws and regulations concerning exoffender employment are exclusionary in nature, banning individuals with criminal records from entire industries, restricting licensing boards from granting occupational licenses to ex-offenders, and mandating employers perform criminal background checks on applicants for certain types of jobs. (Miriam J. Aukerman, The Somewhat Suspect Class) In reality, just one federal law limits an employer’s ability to discriminate against ex-offenders.

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In a word, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most important laws ever enacted, in part because it has fundamentally altered how we treat groups of people who were long considered deserving of discrimination

Perhaps more so than other industrialized nations, the United States has proven particularly inhospitable to ex-offenders, imposing a vast network of both formal and informal sanctions to ensure people with criminal records continue serving a life sentence long after their prison terms are complete. Advocating for the employment of ex-offenders is a delicate task. no matter the proposal, there are bound to be risks and rewards, winners and losers. But with more than sixty-five million Americans with criminal records,344 the time has come for comprehensive federal reform that empowers ex-offenders to turn their lives around through greater employment opportunities.

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Johnathan J. Smith, Banning the Box but Keeping the Discrimination?: Disparate Impact and Employers’ Overreliance on Criminal Background Checks, 49 HARV. C.R.-C.L. L. REV. 197, 211 (2014).

Sandra J. Mullings, Employment of Ex-Offenders: The Time Has Come for a True Antidiscrimination Statute, 64 SYRACUSE L. REV. 261, 261–62 (2014)

Joe LaRocca, Erase the Box, Endanger Customers, NAT’L RETAIL FED’N (July 27, 2011), Legislation in Louisiana

Marc Mauer, Thinking About Prison and Its Impact in the Twenty-First Century, 2 OHIO ST. J. CRIM. L. 607, 607 (2005); Walker Newell

Miriam J. Aukerman, The Somewhat Suspect Class: Towards a Constitutional Framework for Evaluating Occupational Restrictions Affecting People with Criminal Records, 7 J.L. SOC’Y 18, 24 (2005)

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