by Michelle K. Massie
Monster Contributing Writer
Today's competitive job market presents a challenge for anyone seeking to move up. But a criminal record can make finding even entry-level positions nearly impossible.
Just ask Carlton Williams. Now 30, Williams spent nearly a decade behind bars on a drug conviction. For the past nine months following parole, he has worked as a grinder in a steel mill.
"It's definitely hard," Williams says. "I've been turned down for jobs I knew I was qualified for, but they overlook me for the person who doesn't have a record. Somebody helped me get the job I have now. But the person who got me hired had to go through a lot of doubt and questions about me…. It's that record that keeps people looking past you."
Rising Inmate Populations Mean More Ex-Offenders Seeking Jobs
Skyrocketing inmate populations mean millions of inmates released from jail or prison over the past five years are facing this scenario. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data show that in 2004, more than 7 million adults were under some form of correctional supervision, including prison or jail, parole and probation. Approximately 2.1 million were incarcerated, leaving 5 million in society—and looking for work.
Ex-offender population demographics are also a factor. In 2004, there were 3,218 African American male prison inmates per 100,000 African American males in the United States, compared to 1,220 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 463 white male inmates per 100,000 white males, according to BJS data. In other words, African American males are incarcerated at a rate nearly seven times that of white males.
Job Search Hurdles
Some experts find ways to accentuate the positive for ex-offender job seekers.
"I think ex-offenders make some of the best employees, because [parolees] have sanctions, and if they violate those rules, it could mean trouble," says Carena M. Pope, director of Career & Workforce Development Center—East in Pittsburgh. "It's like having a monitor over the employee to ensure they go to work each day."
But Pope, whose organization has a program specifically for former inmates, admits that while ex-offenders make excellent workers, they face many obstacles when trying to reenter the workforce besides criminal records, such as:
"It's important to help them reduce the barriers first by looking at what issues they have," Pope says. "We look at the entire picture before we place a person in a job."
Job Search Tips for Ex-Offenders
Pope offers this advice to ex-offenders searching for employment:
"To be honest, there are people who do not want to hire ex-offenders," Pope says. "You will run into roadblocks. That can't discourage job seekers. You just have to keep trying. Employers need to know that employment cuts down the rate of recidivism."
Williams's advice to those in a similar situation? "Take all the help you can get, take it one day at a time, and don't give up. Because you don't want to end up back in a bad situation."
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