Viewpoint: Give returning citizens second chance
As a task force, our ultimate goal is to expand opportunities for returning citizens to obtain employment, housing, and health care.
Imagine you’ve just been released from prison and all you have is $50 and a bus ticket in your pocket. You have no place to go, no place to live and no job. You may not even have the No.1 item necessary to open a bank account, put a deposit down on a house and get to work: a driver’s license.
That’s the experience for many of the more than 600,000 Americans released from state and federal prisons every year, and it’s one of the many reasons why the United States has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world.
As co-founders and co-chairs of the Bipartisan Second Chance Task Force, we’re tackling this problem with commonsense, data-driven policies to effectively break down barriers to successful reentry and give returning citizens a real second chance. As a task force, our ultimate goal is to expand opportunities for returning citizens to obtain employment, housing, and health care – the main factors preventing folks from becoming incarcerated again.
With more than 10 million job openings in the United States and only 5.7 million unemployed workers, companies should focus on hiring returning citizens to put a dent in the labor shortage and protect our local economies. Current projections indicate that the construction industry needs to attract 546,000 more workers to meet demand in 2023. Not to mention that there’s expected to be a shortage of more than 2 million manufacturing workers by 2030. Hiring returning citizens is not only proven to be the single most important factor to decrease recidivism, but it’s also good for business.
The Prison Fellowship reported that individuals with a criminal record are less likely to quit, avoiding costs related to turnover. Further, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that “preventing returning citizens from fully reentering the workforce costs the U.S. economy between $78 billion and $87 billion in projected economic output.” Despite the clear benefits, many employers still ask applicants to disclose their criminal pasts, reducing the likelihood of a callback by 50 percent.
To make it easier for returning citizens to get hired, we introduced the Fresh Start Act and supported the Clean Slate Act last Congress, both of which would streamline the sealing of eligible arrest records. Millions of people have not had their records expunged and are effectively precluded from doing so because the current process is too expensive, time-consuming and complicated. The Fresh Start Act would make it easier for folks who have served their time and remained crime-free to access employment, education, and housing.
Beyond legislation, we are committed to working with the Bureau of Prisons and our nation’s leading employers to bolster existing job training programs to better prepare returning citizens for today’s workforce. Moving forward, we hope that we can build upon these programs to forge an opportunity pipeline to connect returning citizens with jobs before they leave prison.
We can’t expect people to successfully rebuild their lives without the basic tools many of us take for granted. Our solutions should reflect the clear and documented needs of returning citizens and the communities they’re returning to. April may be Second Chance Month, but our task force will be working to support those returning from prison every single day.