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Accessibility in Employment: Race and Reentry

Prisoner reentry is a complicated process where former inmates often experience various roadblocks and difficulties, both before and during reintegration into the community. Former inmates, depending on the duration of their sentence, may be unfamiliar with the society they are returning to. From societal values to technological advancements, the world can change quickly and drastically, making reentry complex. However, a proper support network is crucial to successful reentry and low recidivism rates. While family support is often cited as the most important part of prisoner reentry, employment is often one of the top-valued attainments. Employment can be necessary for parole, to pay debts or child support, or to maintain housing. As unfair treatment of minorities can be seen throughout the criminal justice system, it extends to employment opportunities in reentry.

Photo Credit: Prison Fellowship

Scholars have argued that racism has blinded the system meant to carry out reentry support to the needs of people of color. Mass incarceration has deepened racial disparities in prison, and what needs to be recognized is that many prisoners come from communities that lack proper support networks for the formerly incarcerated. Furthermore, institutionalized racism and an overall lack of care toward reentry has solidified an inadequate system that ignores people of color’s experiences as they leave the prison environment. Finding work after a prison sentence can be incredibly difficult as people refuse hiring people with a record, setting aside their resume after seeing their past. In obtaining employment, the process can be much more difficult for people of color. People of color, specifically Black and Hispanic people, are less likely to find a full-time job compared to their white counterparts. Women of color are often limited to part-time work.

Photo Credit: Prison Policy Initiative

Unemployment rates for formerly incarcerated individuals is higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression. Unemployment is particularly high for Black and female former inmates. When considering LGBTQ people of color, they experience additional barriers and layers of discrimination as they search for employment during the reentry process. LGBTQ people of color have higher rates of unemployment than those who do not belong to the LGBTQ community. These problems people of color experience as they find work after prison, can snowball into additional issues for this population. They may then have issues with transportation, housing, and getting government aid. When former prisoners are employed, they experience lower wages. People of color are also paid less than white people reentering the job market. Families of Black people who were formerly incarcerated are less likely to recommend their family member for a job, but family connections are more likely for white men. These aspects of the job search show that the stigma of incarceration penetrates through employers to the formerly incarcerated's personal support system as they apply for jobs, increased for people of color.

Cultural competency training in employment sectors and appropriate community programs are needed to support people in prisoner reentry and bridge this gap that disproportionately impacts people of color. It is also important to recognize the issues regarding employment in reentry is intersectional. In recent years reentry reform has been pushed to better serve these communities and specifically aid previously incarcerated people of color in reintegrating into the job force.

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