For Blacks Prison Doesnâ€™t Cancel Debt to SocietyÂ Â
Serving one’s time in prison satisfies the debt to society. Right? Wrong. Blacks especially, do not have fair access to jobs after getting out of prison and are often systematically barred from employment solely because of a felony conviction. This is yet another example of race-based discrimination because Blacks are imprisoned–far beyond their percentage of the population.
Background information on the employment re-entry issue underscores the need for equitable for ex-felons who have served their time:
California’s recidivism rate is the highest in the nation (70%). A major contributing to this problem is a lack of job opportunities available to people with prior convictions. Each month the Department of Corrections releases approximately 10,000 inmates from California’s prisons. Nearly two-thirds of those released served time for non-violent offenses, including drug offences (37%) and property offenses (25%). Additionally, the state recently began releasing non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offender inmates in response to prison overcrowding and exorbitant prison spending.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)has a policy statement on conviction records. The commission recognizes that, “an employer’s policy or practice of excluding individuals from employment on the basis of their conviction records has an adverse impact on African American (and Latino) workers who are convicted at a disproportionately higher rate than their representation in the population.” Consequently, the commission holds that such a policy or practice is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in the absence of a justifying business necessity.
AB2727 (Re-entry Employment Opportunity Act) authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-51) would codify the EEOC policy statement in state law by preventing employers from denying employment to an applicant solely based on a past conviction unless: 1) There is a direct relationship between a criminal offense and the employment sought; or 2) The relationship between the conviction and the employment being sought is such that the granting of employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety and welfare of specific persons or the general public.
The intent of the bill is to empower employers to determine whether a prior conviction would have a significant effect on future job performance while also maintaining public safety by preserving their right to perform a criminal history background check. (Nothing prevents an employer from asking an applicant about a conviction that is unrelated to the employment being sought.) The need for such legislation is supported by cost effective, humanistic considerations as well as studies showing that steady employment significantly reduces re-entry by as much as 46%. California pours hundreds of millions of dollars per year into educating inmates only to release them to a business climate that dismisses their skill capacity based solely on their past transgressions. (AB2727 is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.)
The late Kenneth Garner, Deputy Chief LAPD, was passionate about increasing re-entry opportunities for parolees and was developing a re-entry program at the time of his untimely death. Since then, LAPD began, “Honor and Strength” (HAS), a community re-entry and rehabilitation program. It is described as “mobilizing the entire community and faith-based organizations on behalf of parolees who are serious about changing their lives, learning from their mistakes and finding a new path to success.”
In addition to job-training and job-finding opportunities, HAS includes GED high school diplomas, vocational training, Associate of Arts Degrees, social development training, substance abuse support and money management training. Its goal is to have individuals make life changes and, “involves a wraparound process that brings each participant all of the resources needed to succeed.” The desired outcome is that, “participants can take steps towards transforming the future for themselves, their families and potentially, the entire community.”
Hopefully, this very ambitious program signals a departure from LAPD’s historical reluctance to actually work, on a sustained basis, with communities like Watts-the target area-and other parts of South Los Angeles. Coupled with related efforts such as AB 2727, HAS may augur well for safer, more prosperous neighborhoods by helping to develop other, mutually beneficial efforts.
It is vitally important that California’s legislature, local public officials and the general public come to realize that parolees’ access to quality jobs positively affects the entire community. It is not only cost effective but fundamentally self-serving: By helping paroled ex felons, society helps itself.