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Criminal justice reform will help workers

The effects of an arrest for a nonviolent crime can be a far reaching and lead to an ongoing stain on a person’s record. A Google search will often reveal past arrests for a nonviolent crime and this information to anyone for years following the arrest. The resulting discrimination can be a devastating blow to the best job search efforts.

Last Friday, the president signed The First Step Act, which enacts long needed reform to our criminal justice system by moderating overly harsh sentencing. Now, Congress must look more critically at the problems faced by inmates upon release in order to address not only recidivism, but our nation’s far reaching labor shortage.

Studies show that individuals who can’t find meaningful employment upon release are more likely to engage in illegal activity and return to prison. Currently, for every 100-people released from prison, 66 will end up back in prison. Not surprisingly however, that rate is far lower for those who get jobs soon after release. In fact, California has shown that recidivism may be as low as 3% for those who gain meaningful employment shortly following release.

This year Pennsylvania passed the “Clean Slate” law which requires automatic sealing of records for misdemeanor offenses if a person is free of convictions for 10 years. Likewise, South Carolina, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Oregon, are also making it easier for some people convicted of certain low-level and first-time criminal offenses to get their records sealed or expunged.

This kind of reform could benefit an economy such as Maine’s where the unemployment rate is 3.4% and employers are facing an ever-greater scarcity of job- seekers and are “going to extremes” to fill positions.