Justice Reform

Many do not consider the struggles a person faces when they are released from incarceration. They need a stable income to provide for their families, pursue their goals, and participate in their community. There are many challenges during the transition from incarceration to community; the search for a job is an important step forward. A nationally represented data set was released estimating the unemployment rate of the 5 million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States. The data demonstrated that this demographic is unemployed at a rate over 27% higher than any historical period in the United States, including the Great Depression. For those who do manage to find employment, it is usually a very unreliable and low-paying position.

Research shows that those histories in the criminal justice system want to work and that hiring them can be beneficial for both employers and the public. An analysis of IRS data by the Brookings Institution demonstrated the majority of those released who had obtained an income were well below the poverty line. Research from 1.3 million military enlistments show that those with a criminal record are promoted faster and to higher ranks than other enlistees, and they had the same rate of attrition as their peers without records. Formerly incarcerated citizens want to work, but with current laws and policies it is increasingly difficult for them to even be given the chance.

“Ban the Box” is an international campaign for ex-offenders and civil rights groups to remove the checkbox which asks whether candidates have a criminal record on job applications. With his signing of the ban the box legislation, Governor Jared Polis made Colorado the nation’s 12th state to join the movement. The bill will be effective September 2019 for any company that has 11 or more employees. Businesses with less employees will have until September of 2021 to enforce the bill, according to Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver).

The law will allow potential employees to be evaluated on their merit rather than immediately being taken out of the candidate pool. However, employers are allowed to ask if they have been arrested and run a background during the interview process. The new law will change the recruiting culture of Colorado, said Rob McGowen, owner of Denver-based Dai Kon sandwiches. He believes it will be harder for companies to immediately dismiss a potential employee. McGowen believes that it will put more importance on the person in the interview, rather than their history. “Really, it’s about the interview and how you present yourself.”