By HANNAH PARKER
In current American society incarceration rates continue to climb the population ladder, and while they do so job opportunities for these incarcerated persons are sharply decreasing, and as some would say, for lack of good reason.
According to the United States Census Bureau, as of Nov. 9 there are about 320 million people in America, while the adult correctional population stands slightly below seven million people according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which was last updated in 2013. But when looking at the grand scheme of adult correctional rates worldwide America stands with the largest percentage of incarceration rates at more than 20 percent, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
While diving into the data behind adult correctional population we can see that only 18 percent of felonies are violent offenses, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That leaves the other 82 percent of nonviolent felonies at a cross roads when it comes to job opportunities.
In today’s job market a majority of job applications are turned in online with simple boxes that you check describing certain life experiences or characteristics. Are you male or female? Check a box. Do you have children? Check a box. Have you been convicted of a felony? Check a box.
These seem like simple questions, and would be no doubt asked in a face-to-face interview as well. However, there is a difference when sorting through online applications. Some computers are set up to automatically toss out applications where yes was checked to convicting a felony, whereas in a face-to-face interview the ex-convict at least has the opportunity to further explain themselves.
When a felon is released from prison back into society it is because they paid their time for the felony they committed and the justice system saw them fit to weave back into society. But when the job market makes it close to impossible to reenter because of the stigma against the word felon, these persons have little to no way of weaving back in.
The stigma associated with the word felon stems from the stereotype of a felon. We imagine a felon as dangerous and scary and not able to function as a normal citizen, but when looking at the percentage of actual dangerous or violent offense we can see that the majority of felons do not fit into the stereotype but are being penalized nonetheless for it.
Looking even more closely at the amount of adult incarcerated persons in America, we must remember that they are in fact adults, which means they are 18 years or older. “Adults” just recently graduated from high school who have barely even begun their lives and now never will be able to fully live due to the stigma associated with the word felon.
According to the Washington Post, Congress is currently considering a directive proposed by President Obama that would “formalize a practice of delaying questions about an applicant’s criminal history until later in the hiring process.” This directive would help increase ex-felons chances of being hired for a job and not weed them out based off of a stereotype.
While Americans await Congress’s official decision on the directive, The Fair Chance Act is being introduced that would disallow federal government branches from questioning applicants on criminal background until the “conditional job hiring offer stage.”
Known as ‘Ban the Box,’ people are pushing a change, which would make it no longer necessary to check the box on applications concerning criminal history.
“The federal government, I believe, should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before even looking at their qualifications,” Obama said in the article. “We can’t dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake that they made in the past.” Many Americans are pushing for changes in the job market concerning felons and pushing for the ‘Ban the Box’ movement to really take off.
If the justice system truly wants these felons to eventually come back into society, then stereotypes need to be broken down by nondiscriminatory legislation such as Obama’s directive.