Unemployment among Formerly Incarcerated People

Why are formerly incarcerated people unemployed in today’s society?



Unemployment among Formerly Incarcerated People





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Unemployment among Formerly Incarcerated People

People who are formerly imprisoned find it challenging to find a Job. According to Looney et al. (2018), “more than 2.2 million individuals are incarcerated in the United States, and more than 620,000 are released from prison annually, and among individuals released from prison, one-third will return to prison at some point” (p.4). According to Couloute et al (2018), formerly incarcerated people need stable jobs in order to be able to be able to fully incorporate in to normal living. Formerly incarcerated people also need to peruse their life goals after prison and support their loved ones and be accepted back into the community. Couloute et al (2018) also stated that studies that were conducted showed that formerly incarcerated individuals were unemployed at a rate of 27% more than the total US employment rate and five times higher than the people who have never been incarcerated. Couloute et al. (2018) also stated that the study’s “estimate of the unemployment rate establishes that formerly incarcerated people want to work but face structural barriers to securing employment, particularly within the period immediately following release” (p.1). Formerly incarcerated people, mostly Black and Hispanic women, reduce their chances of employment. The perpetual labor markets promote poverty among the formerly incarcerated individuals, and employers and taxpayers are looking to break this cycle. According to Couloute et al. (2018), “over 600,000 people make the difficult transition from prisons to the community each year, and although there are many challenges involved in the transition, the roadblocks to securing a job have particularly severe consequences” (p.2). Thus, formerly incarcerated people face a challenge when looking for work because of their criminal records.

Employers are encouraged to hire formerly incarcerated people in order to help them incorporate back to the community. According to Couloute et al. (2018), although the employers express their willingness to employ people with criminal records, the evidence shows that individuals having a record reduces the potential employer callback rates by 50%.  According to Couloute et al. (2018), analysis show that formerly incarcerated people work harder in the labor market than those who have never been incarcerated. Couloute et al. (2018) also stated that “among 25-44-year-old formerly incarcerated people, 93.3% are either employed or actively looking for work, compared to 83.8% among their general population peers of similar ages. 11 and though unemployment among formerly incarcerated people is five times higher than among the general public, these results show that formerly incarcerated people want to work” (p.3). A study also showed that I ndividuals with criminal records were less likely to quit their jobs than those without records because of fear that they will not get another job (Couloute et al., 2018). To people with a criminal record, race and gender and their time since release are some of the factors that play a significant role in shaping who gets access to good jobs and livable incomes.

Factors that Affect Employment among Formerly Incarcerated People

Race and Gender

Race and gender are one of the factors that affect the employment of formerly incarcerated people. According to Couloute et al. (2018), Black and Hispanic people face higher unemployment rates as compared to White people. Women hav a higher unemployment rate as compared to men. According to Egerton et al. (2018), “incarcerated African American males have historically experienced and been subjected to policies and practices that have traditionally discriminated against and perpetuated inequality and inequity in socio-economic status” (p.2). B lack women who were formerly incarcerated have the highest level of unemployment, and white men who are formerly incarcerated have the lowest levels of unemployment. Thus, race and gender are one the factors that affect the employment of formerly incarcerated people due to the rejection by potential employers. Couloute et al. (2018) also stated that “the overrepresentation of people of color and men among those who have been to prison, then, could have conceivably influenced the inequalities we observed between formerly incarcerated people and the general public” (p.3). Thus, race and gender are one of the factors that affect the employment of formerly incarcerated people.

Time Since Release

Time since release is also one factor affecting the employment of formerly incarcerated people. According to Couloute et al. (2018), a stud that was conducted concluded that unemployment of formerly incarcerated people is highest within the first two years of their release. Over 30% of the people released from prison within two years are unemployed, and a high percentage of people who have been out of prison for four years and more have been employed (Couloute et al., 2018). According to Egleton et al. (), “housing, employment, health and mental health are but a few important socio-economic indicators that can create stability or instability in the lives of the formerly incarcerated people depending on their time of release” (p.2). “The transition from prison back to the community is fraught with challenges; the search for employment is one of many tasks that can derail successful reentry and, in the period, immediately following release, formerly incarcerated people are likely to struggle to find housing 16 and attain addiction and mental health support” (Couloute et al., 2018, p.6). Thus, Time since release is also one factor affecting the employment of formerly incarcerated people because of the rejection by potential employers who are not willing to employ people who are just out of prison.


In conclusion, providing employment for formerly incarcerated people enables them to gain economic stability, and this reduces their probability to return to prison and, thus, promotes public safety for the community. Formerly i ncarcerated people want to work but face structural barriers to securing employment due to factors like race, time since release and access to full-time work. People who hav formerly incarcerated people are more likely to be unemployed as compared to the general public, and many who are employed have the most insecure jobs. Former incarcerated people who are a minority and women who have criminal records face the most disadvantage when looking for employment.




Couloute, L., & Kopf, D. (2018). Out of prison & out of work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people. Prison Policy Initiative, 1-14.

Egleton, M. C., Banigo, D. M., McLeod, B. A., & Vakalahi, H. F. (2016). Homelessness among formerly incarcerated African American men: contributors and consequences. Contemporary Social Science11(4), 403-413.

Looney, A., & Turner, N. (2018). Work and opportunity before and after incarceration. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Accessed October5, 2018.


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