In a country of 310 million people, it may seem surprising to hear that 45 million Americans have a criminal record. But it is true.
Michelle Alexander’s recent book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" has attracted a lot of attention both negative and positive in the past few months. In her book, Alexander argues that mass incarceration is the civil rights struggle of the 21st century. She also makes the case that a new racial caste system has been created through mass incarceration.
I agree with Alexander that there is in fact a caste system for former prisoners who are saddled with criminal records. Devah Prager’s book Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration is a must-read for anybody who is interested in this issue. Prager’s sociological study of ex-prisoners suggests that their chances of being gainfully employed are truly bleak and that this poses both a moral and social challenge. It is the only book that I have read that squarely addresses these issues and does so in an accessible way.
However, the issue of criminal records affects many more people than those who were formerly incarcerated. About a month ago, an article by the AP (which is no longer available online) pointed out that criminal records are negatively impacting job-seekers.
From the AP article:
With millions of adults having criminal records — anything from underage drinking to homicide — a growing number of job seekers are having a rough time finding work. And more companies are trying to screen out people with bankruptcies, court judgments or other credit problems just as those numbers have swollen during the recession.
Just ask Adrienne Hudson, a single mother who says she was fired from her new job as a bus driver at First Transit in Oakland, Calif., when the company found out she had been convicted seven years earlier for welfare fraud.
This is a truly calamitous situation where employers continue to have the upper hand to depress wages and create larger social problems. Our capitalist system depends on having a permanent imbalance between supply and demand. Employers are socially engineering the labor pool so that they can pay the most people the least amount of money.
It seems that the Federal Government through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken note of this practice and is prepared to act:
Companies using criminal records or bad credit reports to screen out job applicants might run afoul of anti-discrimination laws as the government steps up scrutiny of hiring policies that can hurt blacks and Hispanics.
A blanket refusal to hire workers based on criminal records or credit problems can be illegal if it has a disparate impact on racial minorities, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency enforces the nation’s employment discrimination laws.
"Our sense is that the problem is snowballing because of the technology allowing these checks to be done with a fair amount of ease," said Carol Miaskoff, assistant legal counsel at the EEOC.
Fortunately many states provide the opportunity to expunge, erase, or seal criminal records. I am reaching out to those of you who might be interested in this topic to tell you about the UN-marked Campaign. We are coming together in Chicago to educate our communities about the importance and value of expunging juvenile criminal records. We are focusing on juvenile records in particular because other local organizations are already working very hard to educate formerly incarcerated adults about their rights in sealing and expunging their criminal records. We have noticed that there is a gap in working with youth, their families, and other adults regarding juvenile criminal records.
To begin with, through the UN-marked Campaign, we are inviting the general public to participate in our own version of the 6 word memoir.
When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked its readers to submit six-word memoirs, the results were fascinating, moving, and sometimes very funny. The results were published in a bestselling book called "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers."
This past mother’s day, the ONE campaign asked its supporters to write six-words reflecting on Why Moms Matter.
Inspired by these efforts, Project NIA’s UN-marked campaign invites interested individuals to submit six-words to convey either the effect/impact of having a juvenile criminal record or to illustrate the importance of clearing a juvenile criminal record.
An example would be: "Fifteen years later still can’t work."
Another could be: "Arrested at 16; shoplifting; never recovered."
So be creative and add your six-words to the mix. We hope to use the best submissions to create an awareness raising poster as part of the UN-marked campaign.
You can submit your 6 words about the impact of having a juvenile record or the value of erasing it to the UN-marked campaign by commenting in this diary. You can send your submission to us at email@example.com. You can also tweet your submission to @projectnia.
Finally, please take a minute to read more about the campaign at our BLOG.
Thanks in advance.