Economic justice for formerly incarcerated women in San Bernadino County

Economic justice for formerly incarcerated women in San Bernadino County

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The 2016-17 Women’s Policy Institute-County San Bernadino team

Imagine:

You are a 22 year old woman with a child, and you just got convicted of your very first offense. At this point, you’re unaware of how much your life is going to change due to this conviction. You persist and do everything the court and the district attorney asks of you in order to avoid incarceration. Once everything is complete, you put your “convicted life” behind you, and never re-offend again. You feel that you still have a chance at life.

So, you decide to educate yourself and get your Master’s degree. You are so proud of your accomplishment, and begin to apply for jobs for which you know you are highly qualified, educated, and experienced. Eventually, all the hard work pays off, and you get a call for the position that you are interested in. During the call, everything goes well, until you are asked about past criminal convictions. With confidence and courage you respond: “Yes, I have a conviction, but it was 13 years ago.” However, education and experience still do not trump a conviction, and you are left hearing the dreaded words: “We can’t hire anyone who has or had a felony, misdemeanor, or DUI.”

At that moment, the feeling of devastation overcomes you.  All your hard work goes unnoticed for a mistake that was made while you were young, many years ago. This leaves you questioning: “Why do I feel like the ‘sentence’ for my mistake never ends, and you still have to do the time if you’re not incarcerated?”

Fair hiring practices, which involve evaluating job applicants based on their qualifications and who they are today, rather than focusing on their criminal record, are good for families and good for the community.

AB 218: Ban the box

As part of the growing effort to address the rampant blanket discrimination in hiring against people with convictions (despite the existence of federal law making it illegal to categorically refuse to consider or hire someone on the basis of the existence of a conviction without further analysis), California took an important step in passing Assembly Bill 218 in 2013. AB 218 is “ban the box” legislation that requires all public employers in California to remove the conviction question from the initial job application and delay inquiry about conviction until a later stage of the process. Employers still get to make all hiring decisions, but consider the candidate’s initial qualifications without the stigma of a criminal record, putting blanket biases aside.

This is important because meaningful access to employment reduces recidivism among formerly incarcerated more than any other intervention or service.

San Bernadino County project

All of these factors impact San Bernardino County especially because San Bernardino County ranks 2nd in the state and 3rd in the nation in number of people coming home from prison.

Discriminatory hiring practices based on criminal records affect large numbers of people in the United States and, in particular, San Bernardino County. An estimated 70 million people living in the U.S., nearly 1 in 3 adults, have a criminal record. One in 8 American men living in the U.S. have a felony criminal record, and 1 in 9 of California’s children have a parent who is incarcerated. Over 40 percent of employers would probably or definitely not be willing to hire someone with a criminal record.

Recidivism goes up when people coming home from incarceration can’t get a job. The number of children growing up in poverty or being separated from their parents and entering the foster care system rises. Companies struggle to fill all positions with qualified candidates and spend more on unnecessary hiring practices. Overall economic growth stagnates.

Unfair and discriminatory employment practices are detrimental to society. Fair chance employment opportunities for people with criminal convictions could decrease the number of people incarcerated in San Bernardino County (and throughout California) due to recidivism. Employment is the most effective tool to decrease recidivism. Increased employment also decreases the poverty rate, and criminal justice and public safety spending, all while increasing the income base tax base throughout the County of San Bernardino and California.

San Bernardino County has been a leader with respect to criminal justice reform and reentry, working toward creating equal opportunity for all residents. In that spirit, the County has the opportunity to increase protections for those returning home and seeking work by enacting policies that: 1) improve adherence to existing employment law; 2) create a mechanism for analyzing County hiring data to determine impact and identify areas for improvement; and 3) expand County hiring policies to those who do business with the County. We’re calling on San Bernadino County to take action and implement policies that do all three.

This post was written by Kim Carter, Porscha Dillard, Renea Wickman, Sharon Green, and Sarah Glenn-Leistikow, all members of the 2016-17 Women’s Policy Institute-County cohort.

 

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