Building off of the idea of African American recidivism in prison and the subsequent release of individuals into a world that is rather unfriendly, it is important to examine the lack of support that African Americans face following prison. The first area of support that fails African Americans when they are attempting to find gainful employment is that they are less likely to be called for an interview than people in the white demographic. A test that was conducted using names that sounded “Black” such as “Jamal” was completed against typically “White” names such as “Gregory”, and resumes with these names were sent to businesses (Cornell and Bernard, page 3). The results were that the names that were meant to mimic African American names tended to receive 50% fewer responses than names that were associated with sounding white. This is only one complication that comes with being an African American, but when compounded with the factor that the individual is a convicted criminal, the numbers appear even worse. Statistics indicate that African Americans who have a high school diploma only have an 8% change of a favorable interview process if it is known that they have a criminal record of any sort. This is less than half of the chance that African Americans have at being hired at a job with the same level of education but without having a prison sentence on their record (Decker and Spohn, page 49). This represents a lack of community and social support for individuals that are imprisoned, where their race and the fact that they were in a prison system is held against them so that they are unable to support themselves through legal means. As a result, many African Americans use the only other means that they have: the criminal skills that they learned while in the prison system.
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Many prison liaisons who oversee the transfer of individuals from prison to the world at a large note that the first few weeks after an individual is released are crucial. During this time, a former inmate has to find a place to live, meaningful employment, and friends or family that will be able to support them through such a transitory process. Unfortunately, many African American communities are ill-equipped to provide such support due to historical levels of poverty and the fact that many people in African American communities are incarcerated themselves. Also, the latest statistics revealed that “A third of prisoners lose their homes while they are in prison and half lose contact with their families, while a third also face mounting debts” (Decker and Spohn, page 33). With no family, homes, money, or jobs to go back to, the first few weeks following the release of an African American typically do not end well, with them being forced to scrounge for a living while simultaneously closing off their opportunities.
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Another aspect of the prison system that stacks the system of overall success against African Americans is that by denying them an education, they limit the future growth of them as a whole. If an individual comes out of prison and does not have the means to return to school to take a GED test or seek another form of higher education, then they are relegated to performing jobs that do not require specialization or education. Unfortunately, there are very few different jobs that do not require some form of an education. Even the United States military and union labor positions require that the individual has some form of high school equivalency in order to work within their ranks. This has a terrible impact on the overall income that individuals can obtain as African Americans. According to the National Bureau of Economic research, people that have no high school diploma only make half of the amount of money that people with a diploma make, and only a third of the money that is made by people who have a college degree (Jameson et al., page 775). These limitations are placed upon the prisoners by the prison system and reduce the amount of money that they can make throughout their entire life. Since African Americans represent the vast number of people that are incarcerated, they face the greatest amount of negative outcomes as a result.
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There is another unfortunate aspect to the act of recidivating that is directly influenced by the inability of these former prisoners to find work: supporting themselves through crime. As many as 18% of all prison inmates are members of gangs while they are in prison, seeking influence and street education that will serve them when they are released. Of the 169,000 African American prison gang members, the recidivism rate is over 85% (2011 National Gang Threat Assessment). By connecting these numbers with the other factors about jail, a clear fact emerges: African Americans function in a society that does not allow them to become successful after they are convicted and serve time in jail. Aside from not being able to actively seek participation in a degree program, African Americans do not have the ability to become involved in meaningful work programs, all but condemning them to a life of lower pay and conditions that will make it much more likely for them to recidivate. The fact that so many are only able to look to gang crime as a means of living shows just how desperate the circumstances have become in the eyes of many, and ultimately proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding crime and high rates of African American imprisonment.
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The incredibly high recidivism rate for African Americans comes as a result of several conditions such as the prison system, economic realities, and social constructs that ultimately penalize them beyond the sentence of their crime. There are ways to improve this situation, though, as it becomes more possible to put education programs in prison systems. Also, reducing sentences for non-violent offenders should be a primary consideration to reduce the overall prison population, thereby decreasing the amount of people subjected to these harsh laws and treatments. Overall, the most important step is that the idea of rehabilitation is one that is truly held and exhibited by the Department of Justice in outlining programs that pair offenders with jobs that are willing to accept them and pay a fair wage. Not only will this reduce crime, but it can stymie the amount of people that society is losing to the cyclical prison system through recidivism.
“2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends.” FBI.gov. FBI, 25 June 2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Cornell, S., and A. Bernard. “Gender and Racial Bias in Hiring.” Illinois.edu. 21 Mar. 2006. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. <http://diversity.illinois.edu/SupportingDocs/DRIVE/Gender and Racial Bias in Hiring-1.pdf>.
“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP.org. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. <http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet>.
Decker, S., and C. Spohn. “Criminal Stigma, Race, Gender and Employment: An Expanded Assessment of the Consequences of Imprisonment for Employment.” Ncjrs.gov. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Jamison, Eliot A., Dean T. Jamison, and Eric A. Hanushek. “The Effects of Education Quality on Income Growth and Mortality Decline.” Economics of Education Review (2006): 771-88. Print.
Ryan, Liz. “Key Facts: Children in Adult Jails & Prisons.” Campaign for Youth Justice. 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.