Today, nearly one-third of the adult working age population has a criminal record. More than 70 million people have criminal records indexed by the FBI. Researchers estimate that by age 23 nearly one in three Americans will have been arrested. Having even a minor criminal record, including a misdemeanor or an arrest without conviction, can create an array of lifelong barriers that affect employment and business opportunities; deny access to student loans, housing, and food assistance; and restrict the right to vote.
More than 95 percent of the 2.2 million people in prison today will be released. Since 1990, an average of 590,400 people have been released each year from state and federal prisons. Almost five million formerly incarcerated people are under some form of community-based supervision. Stringent parole conditions and a lack of support for those re-entering the community have created a high recidivism rate among parolees, who face exploitive fees charged by private companies and are threatened with parole revocation and re-incarceration if they cannot afford to pay. There is an urgent need for parole reform, including barring revocation for technical violations such as inability to pay fees, and creating greater transparency and accountability in parole board proceedings and decisions.
Employment is critical to successful re-entry, but studies show that when job applicants have to check a box on an application indicating they have a criminal record, the chance of getting called back for an interview drops by 50 percent. Last year, the federal government joined 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties in adopting “fair-chance hiring” (or “ban the box”) policies to help formerly incarcerated people get jobs.
In addition to significant obstacles to employment, housing, and obtaining professional licenses, formerly incarcerated people in many states are prevented from voting. Nationwide, 4.4 million Americans who have served their prison sentences nonetheless are denied the right to vote. Twelve states (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming) do not automatically restore voting rights to people who have served their sentences. Alabama's voting ban is permanent unless the individual obtains a pardon - an arduous process that can take many months to complete. Those convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude" cannot obtain a pardon and are permanently barred from voting under current Alabama law. As a result, Alabama has one of the nation's highest disenfranchisement rates: nearly a third of African American men in Alabama have lost the right to vote. Across the country, 13 percent of African American men are disenfranchised, which is seven times the national average.
People who entered adult prisons as juveniles and have been incarcerated for years face unique challenges upon release. Their experience with the outside world is limited to that of a teenager – some never learned to drive a car, had their own bank account, or held a job. To succeed on parole or after release, they need assistance addressing basic needs like housing and employment, education about life skills and how to cope with the daily decisions adults face in the outside world, and support in dealing with the mental and emotional challenges of re-entry. EJI’s Post-Release Education & Preparation (PREP) re-entry program provides employment, daily supervision, counseling from licensed mental health professionals, and educational programming for offenders who entered state prison as children.
The report profiles reforms that reduced prison populations between 14 and 25 percent over the past decade in several states.