The Cost of Discrimination and the Value of a Second Chance

“I regret to inform you that you were not selected for employment at this time” and “Unfortunately, we will not be able to move forward with you application for this position” are phrases frequently given to formerly incarcerated individuals searching for employment in the United States, a country that incarcerates a larger share of its population than any other country on the planet. Currently, 1 in 3 adults in the United States has a criminal record of some kind highlighting the preference this country has towards criminalization over community-based solutions. However, this obsession towards criminalization and incarceration comes at a loathly price. 

According to the “Texas Center for Justice and Equity, Texas spends”$6.9 Billion every biennium on incarceration, probation, and parole.” Additionally, “Texas spends the most in the nation on prisons, and jails; over the past three decades, it has grown 5x faster than the state’s rate of spending on elementary and secondary education.” While this is a shit ton of money to spend on incarceration, that number balloons when formerly incarcerated men and women are not afforded fair access to employment. 

Data shows that 9 in 10 employers use background checks to screen out applicants with criminal records resulting in harsh economic barriers often called collateral consequences. The Center for American Progress reports that eliminating access to employment opportunities for justice-involved families results in a loss of $87 billion in gross domestic product annually. Simply put, tax payers are essentially double taxed: once to cover the cost of incarceration and again to make up for the loss of potential revenue that could be circulating in the local and national economies if justice-involved individuals were given a fair chance to re-enter society free of discrimination. 

Beyond the economic prices paid for the discrimination of the formerly incarcerated, our families, communities, and society suffers mentally, emotionally, and spiritually from essentially creating a caste class resulting in higher rates of recidivism, sucide, parentless children, broken communities, and broken men and women. We must confront the fact that policy-makers have failed many of those roped into the criminal justice system before they ever added to the ever growing number of currently and formerly incarcerated people and they have a responsibility to repair and restore what has been broken. Whether innocent or guilty, Bryan Stevenson famously said “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” 

I encourage every policy-maker, elected or appointed official, every business owner, and every nonprofit leader to move forward with a mindset towards fairness and forgiveness not just during Second Chance month, but every month of every year, our community can’t afford the price of not doing so. I encourage not only the commitment to institute policies and programs that allow for the sincere, unbiased, and nondiscriminatory access to economic access and growth for justice-involved people. 

Please consider:

  • Ban the Box Policies
  • Clean Slate Laws
  • Fair Chance Licensing 

Justice-involved individuals have served their time, they have paid their debt to society, please stop penalizing families and communities with the hefty fine of discrimination. 

Written by: Sasha Legette