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Posted by on Mar 4, 2010 in Economy | 20 comments

Do the Crime, Do the Time. Forever.

We’re in a buyer’s market across the board.

If you’re ready to spend money on a home, you’re a hot commodity. And if you’re ready to spend money to expand your business, you’re even hotter. When roughly one out of every ten Americans is looking for work, competition for jobs is fierce.

So in this economic climate, these folks are pretty much out of luck:

With the economy struggling, times are tough for Houstonians looking for work. But for about 2,500 ex-convicts at the Road to Re-Entry job fair just west of downtown Wednesday, the search for work has long seemed even bleaker.

Submitting a job application is fruitless, they say, because in a competitive marketplace few will hire someone with a rap sheet.

But these folks’ employment problems won’t go away when the economy picks up, either. There’s no such thing as doing one’s time and moving on. Not in this day and age. Not when something as ordinary as bad credit can move an applicant to the round file.

I don’t know what the answer to this is — and I absolutely understand why an employer would choose a “clean” applicant over a convict — but given that the US has the highest incarceration rates in the world, this problem is going to bite us all on the backside in the not-too-distant future.

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  • shannonlee

    I think you just opened up a massive can of worms 😉 this could be one of those 100 comment posts.

    We can start with over prosecution for political and economic gain.
    Move to the corporate for-profit prisons funding political campaigns.
    Or maybe the social economic conditions that create an environment where a person feels their only chance to survive is through crime.
    Or maybe the blackbrown hip hop culture that condones slinging rocks and slapping hos…that eventually helps fill our prisons.
    Education system to blame?

    I could go on and on…and so could most people.

    You can’t force employers to hire felons. You can subsidize, but maybe that might not be worth the perceived risk. A lot of criminals come out of jails harder and more skilled than when they went in. If they didn’t belong to a gang, they had to join one to survive. Right now, once you get into the system, you are almost guaranteed to stay in it.

    This is a problem that requires core changes in our society. Right now I feel like America is a fear and greed driven society. The violence on our streets is proof enough for me. Take away our guns and we will stab each other for what we want….or maybe use a pen…or a credit default swap.

    • “this could be one of those 100 comment posts.”

      Nah. Too complex a topic, and it’s not about health care. Or Bunning. LOL!!!

      FWIW — yes. I agree that fixing this problem requires fundamental societal changes, but we all know by know that that’s not gonna happen.

      My first pass at this would include reformation of the drug laws. It’s a nibble at the edges, but it’d at least slow the spiral.

      • shannonlee

        But even changing drug laws is a political wedge issue. “Soft on crime” will kill any campaign. Maybe attacking the issue on the cost side is the only way to go. Will voters accept that we simply can’t afford to toss people in jail for carrying a couple joints?

        Sometimes I wish our creditors would just cut us off.

      • $199537

        My first pass at this would include reformation of the drug laws. It’s a nibble at the edges, but it’d at least slow the spiral.

        This would be a good start, too many people have a permanent black mark after their names because of relatively minor crimes.

        I’m an employer and absolutely I will hire someone with a clean record over an ex-felon. The key is to not produce the felons in the first place, and that really goes back to fixing the same societal ills we’ve been trying to fix for decades.

        • “The key is to not produce the felons in the first place, and that really goes back to fixing the same societal ills we’ve been trying to fix for decades.”

          Yes and no.

          Yes, the key is to not produce them in the first place. But there’s a definitional issue as well. Defining something as a crime ipso facto makes the person who commits it a criminal.

  • tidbits

    What a thought provoking post Polimom.

    Incarceation rates and lack of opportunity on release, together with gang indoctrination in prison leads to perpetual recidivism. In addition to shannonlee’s excellent recital, I would add our culture of fear…of terrorism, of economic instability, of personal debt, of healthcare security, and, of course, of criminals.

    We have learned that fear motivates and, as a result, our political and cultural leaders manipulate and exaggerate our fears for everything from elections to advertising retirement programs to entertainment. Within the criminal justice system, we have responded to the fear mongering by discarding reformation and/or community based probation (seriously underfunded in most communities) and education programs in favor of stiff prison sentences. We have to get “tough on crime”.

    That is not to say felons should not do prison time. But, when that time is spent relying on prison gangs to babysit the population rather than providing serious attempts at rehabilitation, the result on release is predictable.

    There is also a racial element to all of this as African Americans and latinos are far more likely to do prison time than anglos as a percentage of the respective populations, resulting in abnormally high unemployment rates among those groups as compared to anglos. It beomes a downward spiral: poverty and unemployment leads to crime which leads to prison which leads to poverty and unemployment…and on to the next generation.

    Thank you for raising this subject.

    • shannonlee

      “shannonlee’s excellent recital” considering it took you 3 sentence to state what I did in 100….I would give myself a C. 🙂

    • “Incarceation rates and lack of opportunity on release, together with gang indoctrination in prison leads to perpetual recidivism.”

      I like that phrase. Perpetual recidivism. Unfortunately, although the DoJ has an astounding amount of publicly available data, it’s really hard to look broadly at recidivism rates. Generally speaking, though, they’re high.

      I think you’re right about how the use of fear to advance policy has made an enormous (and unanticipated) impact. Classic case of unintended consequences: Fear that your child we be snatched by a stranger on the street has led to kids growing up indoors, or dependent on parents (cars) to get to a friends house five blocks away. Big causal factor in the obesity explosion.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    Well, this is something we can agree on 100%, Polimom. It’s an awful waste of potential to deny all of these people the ability to contribute to society. The secondary effects on attitude towards society by them and their friends and relatives can’t be measured.

  • Zzzzz

    Reforming the drug laws would be a bigger start than you realize. A big chunk of people are in prison for drug crimes, and most of that is marijuana. Over a third of our population has tried marijuana at some point. It just doesn’t make any sense that this is a felony.

    • EEllis

      “A big chunk of people are in prison for drug crimes”

      Not really, and almost none for simple posesion. People are in jail for crimes they commit to support drug habits and for dealing/manufacturing drugs. The argument that cheap legal drugs will empty the prisons is ….. far from indisputable. No one is in the big house for smoking a joint!!!!

      • Zzzzz

        “(2007) According to the American Corrections Association, the average daily cost per state prison inmate per day in the US is $67.55. State prisons held 253,300 inmates for drug offenses in 2007. That means states spent approximately $17,110,415 per day to imprison drug offenders, or $6,245,301,475 per year.”

        Empty out the jails, no. However, this is a ridiculous waste of resources, both in human productivity and in tax payer dollars.

  • ProfElwood

    Just a quick look at effectiveness studies:

    Legal effectiveness:
    http://transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2009/04/transform-publishes-comparative-cost.html
    http://www.drugpolicy.org/library/factsheets/effectivenes/

    DARE: http://alcoholfacts.org/DARE.html

    Treatment: http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/AbstractDB/AbstractDBDetails.aspx?id=120787

    Does anyone have a counterpoint study, that is, one that studied the effectiveness of drug laws and concludes that they work?

  • merkin

    In a broader sense this again points to our inability to make changes even when it is obvious to all that something is wrong. It is obvious that filling our jails with drug users is worse than the damage the crime does to them and is bad for society because of the waste of human potential. And yet we cannot even have a discussion about it for fear of being viewed as soft on crime.

    All of our problems seem to have these artificial barriers to reaching evidence based solutions, put up by interests that stand to lose from the change. California’s referendum to ease mandatory sentencing was defeated by an ad campaign paid for by the prison guards. No matter the merits of the proposal it was easily defeated because there was no one who would profit enough from passage to throw money at an ad campaign to balance the prison guards. To me this is a major threat to our democracy.

    • I wish I could disagree with you merkin, only because I hate to agree that something might be hopeless.

      Because you’re absolutely right here. There’s no-one who can profit from a sensible policy change… and therefore, there’s no $ to fight the special interests. Dang, that’s a grim thought.

      • shannonlee

        Well, this thread just got really depressing.

  • ProfElwood

    There’s no-one who can profit from a sensible policy change

    Well, it would cut losses to state governments and therefore their taxpayers, but no one of any importance.

  • EEllis

    Among the reasons felons have trouble is because statistically, as a group I mean, they are a horrible employment risk and in some cases a horrible liability risk. Why hire from a pool that you know you are more likely to have trouble from? You get to much crap and problems as is. If you haven’t destroyed your relationships and have a skill then it is quite possible to find employment after release from jail. Does it take work and time, yes. Why shouldn’t it when it takes the same effort for those who have followed the law.

  • DLS

    A number of things I saw in Michigan led me to remark on this site that corrections reform in this country is long overdue.

    As to what’s more specific to what Polimom originally posted:

    * Bear in mind the lawsuit abuse problem in this country. Hire someone with a record, be liable, big time.

    * Yes, techically, serving one’s sentence should be it, debt to society paid, “restart.” Not that way, though.

    * Polimom, for your information, there are instances where states are working to change state law to address specifically the job problem you are writing about.

    See here:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/papa02232010.html

  • DLS

    “this is a ridiculous waste of resources”

    Despite misgivings people have about the HMOs in the 80s-90s, most understand what they and others said about sensibility with hospitals, and it is true with incarceration: Jails and prisons are expensive, dangerous places, and only those who really belong in them should be in them.

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