If a Washington criminal court judge handed you a guilty verdict, you may assume that your life is over. According to Rasmussen College, the average criminal sentence is a little more than three years. However, people with felony convictions often face long-term challenges post-conviction, including challenges related to employment, education and housing. Seventy-six percent of the thousands of inmates released each year end up back behind bars within five years. With this information in mind, you may wonder if there is any hope for normalcy post-conviction. The short answer is, yes.
The inability to obtain gainful employment is by far the biggest hurdle convicted felons face post-release. Many employers are skittish about hiring a person with a criminal background, especially if that background contains episodes of violence or theft. However, in recent years, reformers have made it difficult for employers to discriminate on criminal history alone. In fact, some states have implemented the “ban the box” law, which makes it illegal for employers to include questions regarding criminal records on applications. Moreover, the federal government now offers tax incentives to business that hire individuals from certain groups, such as convicted felons.
Education, or lack thereof, is another obstacle for many people with criminal records. According to one study, 30% of inmates do not have a GED or high school diploma. In an economy where employers increasingly seek candidates with a higher education, this gap further diminishes employment prospects for convicts.
Unfortunately, many states do not offer enough, if any, funding for prisoner education programs. Some states have discussed the possibility of increasing funding for such programs. Moreover, the government no longer awards Pell grants to inmates, and certain drug convictions bar felons from ever receiving government aid for future schooling.
Finding housing is yet another hardship convicted felons face. Many landlords refuse to rent to former convicts, something they can do given convicts are not part of a protected class. The inability to find decent housing further compounds the issue of finding gainful employment and vice versa — it becomes difficult to find a place to live without proof of employment.
Fortunately, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a standard that would leave landlords open to lawsuits for refusing to rent to those with criminal records. Additionally, many states offer reentry programs and halfway houses to former inmates who need time to readjust to normal life.
In an upcoming post, we will explore Washington’s recently-passed New Hope Act, which will allow more people to expunge past criminal records and pursue a new beginning.
This article is for educational purposes only. You should not use it as legal advice.