Prisoners and Jobs: Going Straight
Banning employers from asking about criminal records may not work.
Dion got his first paying job at 14—which would be admirable, except that he was selling crack cocaine.
He spent much of his early adulthood bouncing between prison and the streets of Yonkers, in New York state.
Then, a few months out of one four-year spell behind bars, he discovered Greyston bakery.
Founded by a Jewish engineer-turned-Buddhist monk, Greyston practices “non-judgment”.
To get a job, people need only provide their names and telephone numbers, and turn up on time when a vacancy arises.
Most companies are far more discerning, particularly when it comes to people like Dion.
Perhaps half of America's private-sector employers ask job applicants to declare their criminal records, and two-thirds routinely run checks before taking people on.
They see it as necessary due diligence.
Unfortunately, checks that individual firms believe to be prudent are collectively bad for the 7m Americans who have spent time in prison and the 70m with a criminal record—numbers that may increase if Jeff Sessions, the hardline attorney-general, pushes through tougher sentencing rules.
Keeping convicts away from jobs may also be harming America.
Nearly half of all ex-prisoners re-offend within their first year of release—a share that might be lower if more found honest work.
The Centre for Employment Opportunities, a charity, places former convicts in 75-day work programmes.
Participants are paid daily and receive help to find permanent jobs.
A randomised controlled trial in which 977 former prisoners who came through the charity's doors either received the full complement of services or very few suggested that the intervention cuts reoffending by 19 percentage points.