With many roadblocks to transition back into the society, unemployment is possibly one of the biggest hurdles formerly incarcerated individuals must overcome. With a huge lack of knowledge about resources and available support, the formerly incarcerated often feel ‘stuck,’ which often results in recidivism, sending them back to prison.
Prison policy, a non-profit organization, that exposes the harms of mass criminalization in the American justice system, found that the unemployment rate for these individuals is “nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general United States population.”
The same organization found that there are 5 million people living in the United States who were previously imprisoned – 27 percent of whom are gravely affected by unemployment.
“[They] want to work, but face structural barriers to securing employment, particularly within the period immediately following release,” the study noted. “‘Formerly incarcerated’ reduces their employment chances even more.”
A question arises, “how is the “formerly incarcerated” status uncovered to potential employers?” According to Global HR Research, 96 percent of American Employers require at least one type of background screening, during which things like criminal records and driving history come up. Thus resulting in the unveiling of one’s past records, which generally puts them under the pressure of society,
with labels like ‘ex-con’ or worse yet, ‘criminal.’ Naturally, people are inclined to reject these individuals from their social circles, and employers reject them from their pool of employees.
Breaking societal barriers, Glendale College has embraced its formerly incarcerated students, lending a helping hand to those who are looking to turn their lives around. System Impacted Intellectuals is a club on campus that has used education and community as a way to reconcile from the mistakes of the past.
“Some of these students don’t have a mother or father to ask basic questions. They carry a stigma and are afraid to ask faculty because they may be looked at differently after someone finds out they have a record,” said David Gray, president of the club. “The club gives them an opportunity to be free and humble. We are a support team, a first line of defense, supporting each other. During meetings we share what we are working on and give one another space to be who we are.”
The club hosted an event geared towards expunging or “clearing” criminal records of the formerly incarcerated students on campus and those from the surrounding public.
Gray hoped that this would pose as a platform for the community to obtain relief from the past. “I know a few guys didn’t attend GCC, but they made the trip and it was worth it for every single one of them,” said Gray.
Elie Miller, supervising attorney at Loyola Law School was present at the event to further guide the students and community members in the process. Miller clarified that expunging one’s record does not wipe it clean, but it increases the likelihood of this person getting a job opportunity, making it easier for them to transition into the workforce.
Miller discussed what it meant to “expunge” one’s record and how that can be done. She advised that before starting the process, one should obtain their dockets from any courthouse in the county where the crime occurred. After this, an attorney should do an analysis of convictions to find out if it is eligible for relief.
Formerly incarcerated individuals are highly affected by the passage of Proposition 47 and Proposition 64, Miller said of two California laws that encourage formerly incarcerated individuals to look more into these as a way of relief.
Proposition 47 applies to certain low-level crimes such as petty theft, simple drug possession and shoplifting under $950 to be reduced from potential felonies to misdemeanors. However, the proposition is not the expungement statute; it does not expunge but just reduces the felony to a misdemeanor after which the case has a better chance of being expunged.
Once classified as one of the “Schedule 1” controlled substances, cannabis was highly criminalized before 2016 before the passing of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana. That led to resentencing related convictions— dismissing cannabis felonies to misdemeanors. According to California Norml, an organization dedicated to reforming California’s marijuana laws, cannabis-related arrests in the state have dropped 56 percent since the passage of the law. As a result, felony arrests have dropped by 74 percent.
Taking this into account, one can conclude that upon the reduction of these felonies, previously convicted folks will have the chance to petition for expungement, which will in its turn open way for better job opportunities, as they do not show on most background checks.
“If a conviction is expunged, the individual must still admit the conviction if he or she is going to run for public office or apply for a state or local license,” the attorney said. “If the conviction prohibited the individual from owning, using or possessing a firearm, the individual cannot own, use or possess a firearm after the expungement.”
Federal employment opportunities, such as working for TSA have higher standards when conducting background checks with their usage of “Live Scanners.”
In this instance, one must be transparent with any prior convictions. Federal convictions are not expunged.
Expungement does not only help individuals find jobs, but also paves the way for these persons to have a better quality life and more opportunities.
In addition, a report on Prop47impacts.com, which is a site dedicated to reporting on all things related to the proposition, said that “California and its counties save money on criminal justice costs, implementing the money into mental health treatment and rehabilitation,” for those who suffer from addiction.