The Price We Pay

While there has recently been a push from advocates and policy -- makers alike to reexamine sentencing policy and practice, the negative impacts on former prisoners and people with felony convictions themselves and the economy as a whole will grow in scale unless the burgeoning reform trend continues and accelerates.
Cherrie Bucknor and Alan Barber
June 1, 2016
Poll of Illinois voters shows overwhelming support for criminal justice reform.
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Washington, D.C. - Decades of “tough on crime” criminal justice policies have resulted in a large and still growing population of former prisoners and people with felony convictions. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) estimates that the reduction in the overall employment rate caused by the barriers faced by former prisoners and people convicted of felonies costs the United States $78 to $87 billion in annual GDP.

The report, “The Price We Pay: Economic Costs of Barriers to Employment for Former Prisoners and People Convicted of Felonies”, uses data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to estimate that there were between 14 and 15.8 million working age people convicted of felonies in 2014, of whom between 6.1 and 6.9 million were former prisoners.  This population often struggles to find work and is characterized by lower employment rates. The vast majority were men.

The report estimates the total number of those convicted of felonies and former prisoners in the US and their respective demographics. Some highlights include:

  • Between 6.0 and 6.7 percent of the male working-age population were former prisoners, while between 13.6 and 15.3 percent had been convicted of a felony.

  • Employment effects were larger for men than women, with a 1.6 to 1.8 percentage-point decline in the employment rate of men and a 0.12 to 0.14 decline for women.

  • Among men, those with less than a high school degree experienced much larger employment rate declines than their college-educated peers, with a drop of 7.3 to 8.2 percentage points in the employment rates of those without a high school degree and a decline of 0.4 to 0.5 percentage points for those with college experience.

  • Black men suffered a 4.7 to 5.4 percentage-point reduction in their employment rate, while the equivalent for Latino men was between 1.4 and 1.6 percentage points, and for white men it was 1.1 to 1.3 percentage points.

“From laws banning former prisoners from employment, to harsh sentencing practices, millions of people face roadblocks in the path to employment,” said Alan Barber, a co- author of the report. “Barring meaningful policy change, the number of people convicted of a felony and former prisoners will only continue to grow, as will the magnitude of losses in employment and output.”

You can read the full report here.

June 19, 2016