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Barriers to Reentry?

The Labor Market for Released Prisoners in Post-Industrial America

Shawn D. Bushway, Michael A. Stoll, David Weiman

Publication Year: 2007

With the introduction of more aggressive policing, prosecution, and sentencing since the late 1970s, the number of Americans in prison has increased dramatically. While many have credited these “get tough” policies with lowering violent crime rates, we are only just beginning to understand the broader costs of mass incarceration. In Barriers to Reentry? experts on labor markets and the criminal justice system investigate how imprisonment affects ex-offenders’ employment prospects, and how the challenge of finding work after prison affects the likelihood that they will break the law again and return to prison. The authors examine the intersection of imprisonment and employment from many vantage points, including employer surveys, interviews with former prisoners, and state data on prison employment programs and post-incarceration employment rates. Ex-prisoners face many obstacles to re-entering the job market—from employers’ fears of negligent hiring lawsuits to the lost opportunities for acquiring work experience while incarcerated. In a study of former prisoners, Becky Pettit and Christopher Lyons find that employment among this group was actually higher immediately after their release than before they were incarcerated, but that over time their employment rate dropped to their pre-imprisonment levels. Exploring the demand side of the equation, Harry Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael Stoll report on their survey of employers in Los Angeles about the hiring of former criminals, in which they find strong evidence of pervasive hiring discrimination against ex-prisoners. Devah Pager finds similar evidence of employer discrimination in an experiment in which Milwaukee employers were presented with applications for otherwise comparable jobseekers, some of whom had criminal records and some of whom did not. Such findings are particularly troubling in light of research by Steven Raphael and David Weiman which shows that ex-criminals are more likely to violate parole if they are unemployed. In a concluding chapter, Bruce Western warns that prison is becoming the norm for too many inner-city minority males; by preventing access to the labor market, mass incarceration is exacerbating inequality. Western argues that, ultimately, the most successful policies are those that keep young men out of prison in the first place. Promoting social justice and reducing recidivism both demand greater efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into the workforce. Barriers to Reentry? cogently underscores one of the major social costs of incarceration, and builds a compelling case for rethinking the way our country rehabilitates criminals.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

title page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This volume originally grew out of the joint Russell Sage Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation research program on the Future of Work. Since 1994 the program has mobilized scholars from various social science disciplines to analyze the profound changes in U.S. labor markets since the 1970s, as evidenced by ...

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Chapter 1 Introduction

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pp. 1-26

The research reported in this volume analyzes the nexus between criminal-justice policies and labor markets, from the perspective of released prisoners. Like other formative social institutions, the labor market is integral to the successful reentry and reintegration of released prisoners into their families and communities. ...

Part I Macro and Micro Contexts of Prisoner Reentry

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Chapter 2 The Regime of Mass Incarceration: A Labor-Market Perspective

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pp. 29-79

In this chapter we set the stage empirically and conceptually for the subsequent contributions that analyze the labor-market conditions for and experiences of the increasing numbers of released prisoners in the United States. Empirically, we situate the problem of prisoner reentry into the labor market within the context of the ...

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Chapter 3 Finding Work on the Outside: Results from the “Returning Home” Project in Chicago

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pp. 80-114

Finding employment after release is one of the most important reintegration challenges facing ex-prisoners, and is one that can have a significant impact on their chances of remaining crime-free. Prior research shows that finding and maintaining a legitimate job after release can reduce the chances of reoffending ...

Part II The Demand Side of the Labor Market

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Chapter 4 The Effect of an Applicant’s Criminal History on Employer Hiring Decisions and Screening Practices: Evidence from Los Angeles

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pp. 117-150

Between 1988 and 2000, the nation’s incarceration rate doubled, from about 250 to nearly 500 per 100,000 persons. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that approximately 9 percent of all men will serve some time in state or federal prisons, with considerably higher figures for blacks (about 30 percent) ...

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Chapter 5 Two Strikes and You’re Out: The Intensification of Racial and Criminal Stigma

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pp. 151-173

Jerome could have been any one of the hundreds of thousands of young black men released from prison each year, facing bleak employment prospects as a result of their race and criminal record. In this case, Jerome happened to be working for me. He was one of four college students I had hired as “testers” for a study of ...

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Chapter 6 Private Providers of Criminal History Records: Do You Get What You Pay For?

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pp. 174-200

Individuals who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than the never-incarcerated to have an unstable work career and low earnings potential, owing in part to the stigmatizing impact of a criminal history record.1 Attempts to measure the negative impact on employment outcomes associated with having ...

Part III From Prison to the Labor Market and Back?

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Chapter 7 Status and the Stigma of Incarceration: The Labor-Market Effects of Incarceration, by Race, Class, and Criminal Involvement

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pp. 203-226

Prison growth over the last quarter of the twentieth century is notable not only for its magnitude but also for the fact that it has disproportionately affected already disadvantaged segments of the population. The prison buildup generates three important observations about inequalities related to incarceration. ...

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Chapter 8 Prison-Based Education and Reentry into the Mainstream Labor Market

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pp. 227-256

A troubling fact associated with the historically high incarceration rates of the last twenty years is that they have had a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged and minority men, individuals who have traditionally maintained marginal positions in the mainstream labor market. An important question, therefore, ...

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Chapter 9 Local Labor-Market Conditions and Post-Prison Employment Experiences of Offenders Released from Ohio State Prisons

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pp. 257-303

In this chapter we examine the impacts of local labor-market conditions on the post-prison employment experiences of offenders released from Ohio state prisons during 1999 and 2000. It uses administrative data from the state’s department of correction that are linked to data from the state’s unemployment insurance claims ...

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Chapter 10 The Impact of Local Labor-Market Conditions on the Likelihood that Parolees Are Returned to Custody

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pp. 304-332

The post-release employment experience of a paroled ex-offender is frequently offered as an important determinant of whether the individual successfully completes his or her term of community supervision. Support for this proposition comes from research demonstrating a positive relationship between labor-market ...

Part IV Does Prison Work?

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Chapter 11 The Penal System and the Labor Market

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pp. 335-360

The chapters in this volume are part of a burgeoning research literature that studies the social and economic effects of imprisonment. Earlier work on the effects of incarceration focused on the recidivism of those coming out of prison and jail. Recent research, however, also examines how imprisonment affects the ...


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pp. 361-374

E-ISBN-13: 9781610441018
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540874
Print-ISBN-10: 0871540878

Page Count: 386
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ex-convicts -- Employment -- United States.
  • Criminals -- Rehabilitation -- United States.
  • Social integration -- United States.
  • Labor market -- United States.
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