Barriers to Reentry?

Barriers to Reentry?: The Labor Market for Released Prisoners in Post-Industrial America

Shawn Bushway
Michael A. Stoll
David F. Weiman
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 386
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    Barriers to Reentry?
    Book Description:

    With the introduction of more aggressive policing, prosecution, and sentencing since the late 1970s, the number of Americans in prison has increased dramatically. While many have credited these “get tough” policies with lowering violent crime rates, we are only just beginning to understand the broader costs of mass incarceration. In Barriers to Reentry? experts on labor markets and the criminal justice system investigate how imprisonment affects ex-offenders’ employment prospects, and how the challenge of finding work after prison affects the likelihood that they will break the law again and return to prison. The authors examine the intersection of imprisonment and employment from many vantage points, including employer surveys, interviews with former prisoners, and state data on prison employment programs and post-incarceration employment rates. Ex-prisoners face many obstacles to re-entering the job market—from employers’ fears of negligent hiring lawsuits to the lost opportunities for acquiring work experience while incarcerated. In a study of former prisoners, Becky Pettit and Christopher Lyons find that employment among this group was actually higher immediately after their release than before they were incarcerated, but that over time their employment rate dropped to their pre-imprisonment levels. Exploring the demand side of the equation, Harry Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael Stoll report on their survey of employers in Los Angeles about the hiring of former criminals, in which they find strong evidence of pervasive hiring discrimination against ex-prisoners. Devah Pager finds similar evidence of employer discrimination in an experiment in which Milwaukee employers were presented with applications for otherwise comparable jobseekers, some of whom had criminal records and some of whom did not. Such findings are particularly troubling in light of research by Steven Raphael and David Weiman which shows that ex-criminals are more likely to violate parole if they are unemployed. In a concluding chapter, Bruce Western warns that prison is becoming the norm for too many inner-city minority males; by preventing access to the labor market, mass incarceration is exacerbating inequality. Western argues that, ultimately, the most successful policies are those that keep young men out of prison in the first place. Promoting social justice and reducing recidivism both demand greater efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into the workforce. Barriers to Reentry? cogently underscores one of the major social costs of incarceration, and builds a compelling case for rethinking the way our country rehabilitates criminals.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-101-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    David F. Weiman
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)
    Shawn Bushway, Michael A. Stoll and David F. Weiman

    The research reported in this volume analyzes the nexus between criminal-justice policies and labor markets, from the perspective of released prisoners. Like other formative social institutions, the labor market is integral to the successful reentry and reintegration of released prisoners into their families and communities. Their path away from crime and future prison spells, what criminologists call desistance, depends critically on employment, specifically finding and holding a good job (Sampson and Laub 1993; Hagan 1993; Uggen 2000; Bushway and Reuter 2002). By contrast, the probability of recidivism—cycling out of prison and back in—varies inversely with an individual’s labor-market...

  6. Part I Macro and Micro Contexts of Prisoner Reentry
    • Chapter 2 The Regime of Mass Incarceration: A Labor-Market Perspective
      (pp. 29-79)
      David F. Weiman, Michael A. Stoll and Shawn Bushway

      In this chapter we set the stage empirically and conceptually for the subsequent contributions that analyze the labor-market conditions for and experiences of the increasing numbers of released prisoners in the United States. Empirically, we situate the problem of prisoner reentry into the labor market within the context of the harsher political economic realities facing those on the socioeconomic margin since the mid-1970s, especially young, less-educated, inner-city minority males.

      First we present evidence for a new criminal justice policy regime which we term mass incarceration; in the chapter’s second section we analyze the new economy of diminished labor-market opportunities and...

    • Chapter 3 Finding Work on the Outside: Results from the “Returning Home” Project in Chicago
      (pp. 80-114)
      Christy A. Visher and Vera Kachnowski

      Finding employment after release is one of the most important re-integration challenges facing ex-prisoners, and is one that can have a significant impact on their chances of remaining crime-free. Prior research shows that finding and maintaining a legitimate job after release can reduce the chances of reoffending following release from prison (Sampson and Laub 1993, 1997; Harer 1994), especially for older offenders (Uggen 2000). Research also indicates that the higher the wages ex-offenders receive, the less likely persons released from prison are to return to crime (Bernstein and Houston 2000; Grogger 1998). The importance of employment for a successful transition...

  7. Part II The Demand Side of the Labor Market
    • Chapter 4 The Effect of an Applicant’s Criminal History on Employer Hiring Decisions and Screening Practices: Evidence from Los Angeles
      (pp. 117-150)
      Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll

      Between 1988 and 2000, the nation’s incarceration rate doubled, from about 250 to nearly 500 per 100,000 persons. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that approximately 9 percent of all men will serve some time in state or federal prisons, with considerably higher figures for blacks (about 30 percent) and Latinos (16 percent). These trends are especially pronounced for California and, within California, for Los Angeles. California houses a disproportionate share of the nation’s recently released prisoners. In 2001, roughly 23 percent of the 600,000 prisoners released during the year resided in California, though the state accounted for only...

    • Chapter 5 Two Strikes and You’re Out: The Intensification of Racial and Criminal Stigma
      (pp. 151-173)
      Devah Pager

      Jerome could have been any one of the hundreds of thousands of young black men released from prison each year, facing bleak employment prospects as a result of their race and criminal record. In this case, Jerome happened to be working for me. He was one of four college students I had hired as “testers” for a study of employment discrimination. His assignment was to apply for entry-level job openings throughout the Milwaukee metropolitan area, presenting a fictitious profile designed to represent a realistic ex-offender. For each job opening, a second black tester also submitted an application, presenting equal educational...

    • Chapter 6 Private Providers of Criminal History Records: Do You Get What You Pay For?
      (pp. 174-200)
      Shawn Bushway, Shauna Briggs, Faye Taxman, Meridith Thanner and Mischelle Van Brakle

      Individuals who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than the never-incarcerated to have an unstable work career and low earnings potential, owing in part to the stigmatizing impact of a criminal history record.¹ Attempts to measure the negative impact on employment outcomes associated with having a criminal record have consistently shown that contact with the criminal-justice system leads to increased job instability and an average decline in income (Nagin and Waldfogel 1995; Grogger 1995; Freeman 1991; Waldfogel 1994; Lott 1992; Bushway 1998; Western 2002; Western, Kling, and Weiman 2001).² And compelling evidence presented in this volume suggests that employers...

  8. Part III From Prison to the Labor Market and Back?
    • Chapter 7 Status and the Stigma of Incarceration: The Labor-Market Effects of Incarceration, by Race, Class, and Criminal Involvement
      (pp. 203-226)
      Becky Pettit and Christopher J. Lyons

      Prison growth over the last quarter of the twentieth century is notable not only for its magnitude but also for the fact that it has disproportionately affected already disadvantaged segments of the population. The prison buildup generates three important observations about inequalities related to incarceration. African Americans are seven times more likely than whites to serve time in prison; educational disproportionality in exposure to the criminal-justice system has increased; and nonviolent offenders represent a growing proportion of prison inmates (Pettit and Western 2004; Mauer 1999).

      Criminal offenders and prison inmates face poor labor-market opportunities. Employers express a reluctance to hire...

    • Chapter 8 Prison-Based Education and Reentry into the Mainstream Labor Market
      (pp. 227-256)
      John H. Tyler and Jeffrey R. Kling

      A troubling fact associated with the historically high incarceration rates of the last twenty years is that they have had a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged and minority men, individuals who have traditionally maintained marginal positions in the mainstream labor market. An important question, therefore, concerns the extent to which education and training programs generally available in correctional facilities help criminal offenders successfully reintegrate into the mainstream labor market. One of the most ubiquitous education opportunities available to inmates who lack a high school diploma is the ability to study for and obtain a general educational development (GED) credential.¹

      Prior research...

    • Chapter 9 Local Labor-Market Conditions and Post-Prison Employment Experiences of Offenders Released from Ohio State Prisons
      (pp. 257-303)
      William J. Sabol

      In this chapter we examine the impacts of local labor-market conditions on the post-prison employment experiences of offenders released from Ohio state prisons during 1999 and 2000. It uses administrative data from the state’s department of correction that are linked to data from the state’s unemployment insurance claims to track exprisoner employment experiences for two years following release from prison. We first use discrete duration models to analyze the impacts of county labor-market conditions on the probability that ex-prisoners will find a job upon release, conditional upon the length of time that they are unemployed when they are released from...

    • Chapter 10 The Impact of Local Labor-Market Conditions on the Likelihood that Parolees Are Returned to Custody
      (pp. 304-332)
      Steven Raphael and David F. Weiman

      The post-release employment experience of a paroled ex-offender is frequently offered as an important determinant of whether the individual successfully completes his or her term of community supervision. Support for this proposition comes from research demonstrating a positive relationship between labor-market conditions and crime rates, and evaluations of parolee employment programs showing significant associations between program participation, employment, and recidivism. However, drawing inferences from this empirical evidence about the effect of employment interventions on recidivism and parole violations is problematic for several reasons. Research that demonstrates an aggregate impact of unemployment on crime does not demonstrate that the criminal behavior...

  9. Part IV Does Prison Work?
    • Chapter 11 The Penal System and the Labor Market
      (pp. 335-360)
      Bruce Western

      The chapters in this volume are part of a burgeoning research literature that studies the social and economic effects of imprisonment. Earlier work on the effects of incarceration focused on the recidivism of those coming out of prison and jail. Recent research, however, also examines how imprisonment affects the socioeconomic life of prisoners and the poor urban communities to which they return (for example, Braman 2003; Western 2006; Clear, forthcoming; Wacquant, forthcoming).

      New research on the social consequences of incarceration is motivated by the facts of mass imprisonment. The American incarceration rate—historically high by U.S. standards, surpassing that of...

  10. Index
    (pp. 361-376)