The NYC Justice Corps targets communities doubly hit by high rates of criminal justice system involvement among residents and poverty. The economic distress in these communities is palpable. In the Community Districts served by the NYC Justice Corps, the average poverty rate is of 34.42%, compared to 20.9% citywide. It is not unusual to find families that have lived below the poverty line for two or three generations, or to meet young people who cannot name a single friend or family member who graduated from college. High school dropout rate TK. These communities suffer from lack of access to sufficient fresh produce and recreational facilities, a contributing factor in to the prevalence of obesity, asthma and other health concerns. Hunts Point in the Bronx, another of the Justice Corps communities, has the highest asthma rate in New York City.
With a population ill-equipped to compete in the job market, the average unemployment rate in these neighborhoods is 7.16%, far higher than the City’s average of 9.7%. Young men of color, ages 16-24, are also significantly more in contact with the criminal justice system, and represent 91% of all admissions to the City’s Correctional facilities. Currently, more young African American men (20 to 34-year-old) without a high school diploma or GED are behind bars than employed (37% compared to 26%).
What happens to young adults returning to these communities after a jail or prison term? What can a young woman or man trying to get off parole or probation expect?
Finding a job will be tough…
Sixty to seventy-five percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed up to a year after being released. Having a criminal record reduces the likelihood of an interview call-back or job offer by 60% for black applicants and 30% for white applicants. Men with criminal convictions who are able to find work earn an average of 30%-40% less than men without criminal records.
Men who have been incarcerated but are able to find a job earn approximately 11% less in terms of hourly wages and 40% less in annual earnings, than men without criminal records.
Incarceration decreases the total earnings of white males by 2%, of Hispanic males by 6%, and of Black males by 9%.
In these communities, social capital that can lead to jobs is scarce. There are fewer employment opportunities in economically disadvantaged communities, and fewer people working who can help job-seekers connect with potential employers. Further, low-income job seekers who have a history of crime, drugs or intermittent work may have few people who are willing to vouch for them in their search for employment, creating an additional disadvantage in the labor market. Multi-generational cycles of poverty can dim young people’s hopes and prevent them from getting the practical help they need to find jobs or apply to college.
For these communities, with so many demands and so few resources, it is especially challenging to welcome young people back into the fold of neighborhood life after their involvement in the justice system. When so many community members are struggling to make ends meet, justice system involved young adults are usually not the priority for precious community resources.
But the additional costs—in government dollars, in human potential—are just too high if we don’t turn the cold shoulder into a real welcome home.
Barriers to employment for people with criminal records create more harm, perpetuating community-wide poverty. Without an avenue to economic advancement, these young adults are at risk of raising another generation in poverty. They are also at risk of recidivism: Two-thirds of young adults released from [what/where] will return to the justice system.