11/18/2011 10:36 am ET

District Residents With Criminal Records Face Massive Unemployment

WASHINGTON -- The Council for Court Excellence, a D.C.-based justice reform group, released a report on Thursday detailing how difficult it can be for District of Columbia residents with criminal records to find work.

There are some 60,000 people with criminal records living in D.C., about 10 percent of the District's population. From a survey of 550 people, the CCE finds that almost 50 percent of D.C. residents with criminal records are jobless, which makes it more likely they will end up back in jail.

According to the report, via Legal Times:

This problem has implications for our city as a whole. At a time when the unemployment rate in the District's lowest-income wards has soared as high as 25%, joblessness among the previously incarcerated is exacerbating overall employment problems and threatening the long-term economic health and security of our neighborhoods. A steady flow of individuals into our communities who are short on skills and face barriers to getting a job is likely to create unemployment challenges for years to come. The possibility of criminal behavior related to lack of opportunity could present ongoing challenges in preserving public safety.

An estimated 60,000 people in the District have criminal records and about 8,000 of them return to the city each year after serving sentences in prison or jail. After just three years, some 4,000 will be back behind bars. While the lack of a job is only one factor leading to recidivism, research shows that when the previously incarcerated have stable employment they are less likely to return to crime and public safety improves.

The report finds there is no "single legislative fix" that will make it easier for previously jailed D.C. residents to find jobs. But there are a number of steps the District could take to increase employment for those with records, including tax incentives and a "'certificate of good standing' program to promote licensing and hiring of previously incarcerated persons."

According to the report, there are six types of jobs that make up 50 percent of the occupations held by District residents who have spent time in jail -- these are vehicle operator/delivery, manager/supervisor, food preparation, janitor/cleaner, laborer/material mover and receptionist/information clerk.

The report also shows how a person is ineligible for most D.C. licenses if he or she has been "convicted of an offense 'which bears directly on the fitness of the person to be licensed.'" There are exceptions, among them asbestos worker, funeral director, boxer/wrestler and attorney.

According to Bloomberg, as of March 2011, in part due to the trouble described in the CCE report, Ward 8 had the country's highest unemployment rate -- 25.2 percent:

"People living in this part of the city tend to have lower education attainment," said Peter Tatian, a senior researcher in the Urban Institute's Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center and director of NeighborhoodInfo DC. "You also have a lot of people who are returning from incarceration or have other legal problems, and so those folks find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring."

In a March Washington City Paper feature on the Homeland Security Department's redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths hospital campus, Lydia DePillis noted how that project "requires a strict background check, disqualifying anybody with recent felonies or misdemeanors -- a big chunk of Ward 8's unemployed population."

Illustrating the struggles some ex-cons face, The Washington Post is profiling a convicted murder and former drug dealer trying to find more stable work now that he's served his time.

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