By Burke Brownfeld, Economic Opportunities Commission of Alexandria
To the editor:
Each year in the United States, 600,000 people are released back into society from prisons and jails. We know that a key element for a successful and crime-free re-entry into society is for an ex-offender to obtain employment.
Unfortunately, various barriers make the employment process virtually impossible for ex-offenders.
Luckily, elected officials have an opportunity to remove some of these barriers.
More than 2 million people are incarcerated across the country. However, for most prisoners, incarceration is temporary. Ninety-five percent of prisoners eventually are released and will face the daunting task of rejoining society.
Virginia prisons release approximately 13,000 ex-offenders into society every year. Locally, 13 people are released every day from the Alexandria jail.
Given that it costs $25,000 per year to house a prisoner in Virginia, many people are concerned about keeping ex-offenders crime-free on the outside. Research shows that unemployed ex-offenders are 2.1 times more likely to face another arrest than those with a job.
Despite encouraging research on employment, obtaining a job is easier said than done. About 75 percent of ex-offenders remain unemployed for up to one year after their release. This high level of unemployment is directly related to the many barriers that they face when they attempt to join the workforce.
One of the first such hurdles is the job application. State government job applications in Virginia require the applicant to provide information about past criminal convictions.
After checking the box and saying, “Yes, I have been convicted of a crime,” the applicant often is immediately eliminated from the application process. Therefore, ex-offenders end up filling out dozens of job applications while rarely making it to the interview stage.
The commonwealth and its cities have the opportunity to join a national trend by banning the box on job applications. In the United States, there are 10 states and 53 cities — four in Virginia — that have removed the question about criminal history from government job applications. In a sign that the private sector is joining this movement, the Target Corp. recently declared that it would no longer ask applicants about criminal history.
Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-45) has introduced promising legislation for the General Assembly session that would ban the box on state government applications. Removing the question would not apply to sensitive positions, such as law enforcement jobs. It also would not prevent the employer from checking a person’s criminal history at a later stage in the application process.
The purpose of this bill is not to ignore criminal history, but rather, give ex-offenders a chance to be judged by the quality of their experience — and personality — before being judged by the answer to a single question.
Our communities will be better served if we begin to support changes like the one offered by Krupicka.