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Nothing earns a faster trip to the trash can than an ex-offender's application acknowledging a criminal history. Even after paying their societal dues, ex-offenders still face numerous economic punishments affecting how much they can earn, and what fields they will enter. These factors boost recidivism rates, ruining the ex-offender's chances of becoming a productive member of society again.
Leaving prison means competing with many others facing severely constricted job prospects. As the Urban League estimates, roughly 1,600 inmates are released every day to communities not anxious to welcome them back. Six states bar ex-felons from public employment, and in many others, any kind of educational, legal, medical or real estate job is also out of the question. One measure of prevailing attitudes can be found in a 2007 "Christian Science Monitor" article. According to the newspaper, two-thirds of employers surveyed in five major cities would not hire an ex-offender.
Prejudice against ex-offenders can literally mean a "wage tax" of 10 to 20 percent lower than someone who has not been to prison, a Princeton University research paper suggests. The search for work itself poses many hurdles. Lack of a stable address is one problem, since many ex-offenders live in halfway houses or with reluctant friends and relatives. This situation leaves ex-offenders scrambling to learn the most basic skills, such as using email. Even when ex-offenders find work, they will likely earn less and have trouble getting promoted, the paper states.
Legal liability issues ranked among the most consistent reasons for employers' unwillingness to hire ex-offenders, followed by protection of client databases and reputation. To some degree, however, a former inmate's chances depended greatly on their individual circumstances, according to a focus group study done in October 2006 by the Criminal Justice Institute. For example, a financial services firm would not hire someone with a history of embezzlement. Indications of drug-related or violent offenses also tended to substantially reduce a candidate's chances of getting hired.
Convincing an employer to give ex-offenders a second chance depended on several factors, according to the institute's study. Completion of a transitional employment program emerged as the most positive influence in employers' hiring decisions, which they saw as evidence of rehabilitation. Evidence of prior job skills also played a major role in persuading employers, who also wanted to see training in the "soft skills" of punctuality, getting along with others and following directions.
Joining community organizations that help ex-offenders is still considered one of the best ways of re-entering the workforce. Ex-offenders may also have to take less desirable work--such as in the fast food industry--to rebuild their credibility back on the outside, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. As time passes, and a person's job skills and history grow stronger, the criminal conviction becomes less relevant. However, it takes time for circumstances to improve, which is why ex-offenders must take the long view in finding a job.
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A former teacher and social worker, Lisa Quinlan is an artist and writer with disabilities. She specializes in writing articles about painting and cartooning for various websites and also covers culture- and health-related subjects.