Tough Economic Prospects for Newly Released Inmates

Black men find it more difficult than any other demographic to get moving in tough economy.

By Naima Ramos-Chapman Sep 30, 2010

There’s now new evidence that black men are finding it more difficult than any other demographic to gain economic mobility in this tough economy. That’s according to research from a newly Pew released report, ‘Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s effect of Economic Mobility.’

Take these stats into consideration:

* One in 87 of the working-age men in the prison population are white, compared to 1 in 36 Latinos, and 1 in 12 black men.

* For young, black males the chances of imprisonment rise when they don’t have a GED or a high school diploma, and are more likely to be incarcerated than employed.

Former inmates may leave prisons feeling like they have paid their debts to society, but with less pay, fewer working hours and limited chances at job mobility, it seems they’re still serving time. 

According to researchers, incarceration cuts hourly wages for men by approximately 11 percent, annual employment by nine weeks and annual earnings by 40 percent. people of color fare worse than Whites when comparing depleted total earnings. While White males total earnings are depressed by two percent, Hispanic males earnings are slashed by six percent; black males a whopping nine percent.

The report also reiterates the impact that economic instability of the newly released can have on families. One in every 28 children have a parent in prison; 11.4 percent of those are black, and only 1.8 percent are white. Since two-third’s of the men were, prior to prison, the primary breadwinners for their families, children of the incarcerated are economically and psychologically vulnerable, the report warns.

Interestingly enough, two-third’s of parents that are put away and unable to care for their kids are locked up for non-violent offenses, further bolstering the call for alternatives to incarceration for people who pose no physical threat to society.

"If we’re serious about public safety, we need [past offenders] to become tax payers and not tax burdens," Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, told the Wall Street Journal. "Former offenders with jobs are more likely to support their families and less likely to offend."

As for solutions offered, the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Pilon notes a few:

The report calls for more connections to be made between inmates and the labor market, as well as enhanced job training opportunities. The researchers also suggest capping how much of a prisoner’s income can be used to repay debts and screening those convicted of crimes by the risk they pose to their communities. The reports cites statistics that put a day in a state prison’s cost at nearly $80 compared with a $3.50 cost for a day on probation supervision.

Surely some of those solutions sound appetizing on paper but until we connect the racial disparity in prisons with the inequities within the judicial system, education systems, juvenile detention systems, discriminatory laws and other institutions that constantly target African-Americans and other ethnic groups just for being brown you can come up with all the solutions you like without actually addressing the problem

Surely, some of these solutions sound good on paper. But they won’t go very far unless they’re accompanied by tactical plans that address the scope of inequalities that lead people to prison in the first place.