The Sentencing Project’s Director of Advocacy Nicole Porter recently spoke with Salon about employment for people with criminal records, criminal justice issues as civil rights issues, and what is necessary to take to tackle mass incarceration in the United States.
When you see stories like the recent one involving Apple and construction workers — stories about people who’ve been convicted being barred from employment or other services — what does it bring to mind most immediately?
My sense is that things are complicated in terms of the causes that lead to policies and practices from employers and other officials trying to limit or control access to certain efforts, in this case employment. Specifically with regards to employment, there are too many people competing for jobs and there aren’t enough jobs available to the large number of people seeking employment. My sense that the underlying problems driving that over time is that people posting job openings and managing the number of applicants are trying to limit the applicants they receive. One way to do that, given the stigma associated with prior convictions, is to have automatic bans or exclusions for people with prior felony convictions. That’s one problem driving this issue.
In addition to that, there’s obviously the problem of mass incarceration — not just people who are incarcerated but the large number of people who have been subjected to criminal justice enforcement and who have obtained criminal records. Given the change in criminalization policies over the last 30 to 40 years, criminal records can marginalize and isolate people from job opportunities and other areas of civic life automatically, without any regards to the individual’s circumstances that may have brought them into contact with the criminal justice system to begin with. Because of these automatic bans in employment and in other areas of civic life — housing bans in the private and public markets, public benefit bans federally and in states — the large number of people brought under criminal justice supervision can be automatically excluded without any individualized conversation.
Read the full interview on Salon.