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Black Americans, who represent just over 12 percent of the U.S. population, are more heavily policed and disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested and punished for the same actions as White Americans. In 2018, nearly 70,000 individuals were sentenced for federal crimes, over 20 percent of whom were Black. Incarceration results in lost income and limited employment prospects after release. 

Formerly incarcerated individuals face acute challenges to obtaining employment and participating in the economy, reflected in a pre-pandemic unemployment rate that was nearly two times that of their White formerly incarcerated peers and five times that of the general U.S. population. Moreover, nearly 90 percent Black individuals who were released from prison in 2005 were rearrested within 9 years, compared with 81 percent of Whites. Second-chance policies have the potential to remove significant barriers to workforce reentry and expand economic and life opportunities for individuals who have paid their debt to society.   

Formerly incarcerated Blacks face a 5x unemployment rate when compared to the general U.S. population

More than 600,000 incarcerated individuals leave prison each year. Most of them face barriers to employment upon their release, limiting their opportunities for economic security and employers’ chance to tap qualified job candidates. For the millions of individuals convicted of a crime who did not go to prison, a job has similar benefits and can keep justice-involved individuals from reoffending. The business community has a critical role to play in helping to provide employment opportunities to qualified individuals with a criminal record. A number of organizations, including the Society of Human Resources Management, have developed resources for companies that are interested in expanding their recruiting practices to ensure that qualified individuals with a criminal background are fairly considered during the hiring process. To build on these efforts, Business Roundtable will partner on the creation of a business coalition to advance second-chance hiring by employers. Coalition members will exchange best practices, learn from subject matter experts, and develop and deploy tools to improve second-chance hiring, as part of a workforce diversity strategy. 

The vast majority of police officers are dedicated public servants who pursue their work with courage and decency. However, for police officers who abuse their positions, or departments that allow abusive behavior, accountability is critical. Further, more robust officer training programs, stronger community partnerships with law enforcement, transparency of policing data, and minimum national policing standards are critical to fostering trust between police departments and the communities they serve. Business Roundtable calls on Congress to commit to pass bipartisan policing reform that aligns with the principles of data collection and transparency, accountability, standards, training, and community engagement.

According to Department of Justice statistics, 41 percent of incarcerated individuals have not completed high school, compared with 18 percent of the overall U.S. population, making them 3 times more likely to recidivate than their peers who have earned a college degree. Yet a mere 35 percent of state prisons provide educational programming that serves just 6 percent of inmates. The result: in the year after release, nearly half of formerly incarcerated individuals report zero income, curbing their economic opportunities and increasing their likelihood to reoffend. Business Roundtable endorses the Promoting Reentry through Education in Prisons (PREP) Act of 2019, which would strengthen education and workforce training programs for incarcerated individuals. Additionally, Business Roundtable reaffirms its 2019 endorsement of the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act of 2019, which would extend Pell Grants eligibility to inmates.

of incarcerated individuals have not completed high school

While federal law allows an individual to defer a conviction and prison sentence through the completion of a court-administered probation program and other stipulations, provision of such relief is significantly restricted to first offense drug possession crimes committed by individuals under age 21. Some state deferred adjudication laws are broadly available, but other states restrict such relief to specialized cases like those in drug court. Business Roundtable supports expansion of deferred adjudication policies as well as congressional reforms that authorize federal courts to avoid conviction and prison sentences for, and to extend expungement to, a broader class of defendants.

A criminal record can stifle an individual’s economic opportunities and life prospects. Yet only a small percentage of the millions of Americans eligible for criminal record expungement or other relief complete the petitioning process. Research shows that individuals whose criminal history has been sealed or expunged see a significant increase in their wages and, over time, are no more likely to commit crimes than the general adult population. Business Roundtable endorses the Clean Slate Act of 2019, which would automatically expunge certain non-violent federal records. 

Criminal record reforms such as judicial certificates and limits on dissemination of records in background checks are also important aides to reintegration. Business Roundtable endorses the RE-ENTER Act of 2019, which would grant federal courts the authority to issue a certificate of rehabilitation for certain federal crimes. Business Roundtable also supports reforms to the Fair Credit Reporting Act to restore the seven-year limit on dissemination of conviction records by credit reporting companies, a limit that now applies only to non-conviction records.

Research shows that nearly nine in ten employers require applicants to undergo a background check and a criminal record can decrease the likelihood of a callback by half. As a result of this and other challenges, the unemployment rate among the 5 million formerly incarcerated people in the United States, even before COVID-19, at 27 percent, was higher than at any other point in U.S. history, including the Great Depression. Many Business Roundtable companies have adopted "Ban the Box" as a hiring best practice, even in the states that have not passed laws. Business Roundtable supports passage of “Ban the Box” legislation in all states, which would require removal of criminal records inquiries from employment applications.

Federal and state employment laws and regulations prohibit individuals convicted of certain crimes from obtaining occupational licenses or working in certain sectors, regardless of the individual’s professional qualifications, the nature of the offense, or time that has elapsed since the crime was committed. While such restrictions are appropriately aimed at preserving public safety, they can be overly restrictive and perpetuate longstanding racial disparities given the disproportionate number of people of color in the criminal justice system. In fact, research has shown a link between onerous state licensure laws and recidivism. Business Roundtable supports reforms to federal and state statutes that prohibit hiring or licensure of individuals who have been convicted of, or entered pretrial diversion for, certain crimes unrelated to public safety.

States increasingly assess fines and fees to justice-involved individuals to cover, for example, pre-trial detention, legal defense, restitution, and post-incarceration supervision. Failure to pay can result in suspension of one’s driver’s license or reincarceration – penalties that disproportionately impact poor Americans and people of color. Only a small percentage of incarcerated individuals earn income while behind bars, and half report no income during the first year post-incarceration, making repayment and reintegration difficult and potentially perpetuating a cycle of recidivism or accumulation of debt. Business Roundtable endorses the State Justice Improvement Act of 2020, which would provide technical assistance to states to create more equitable justice system fee structures. Business Roundtable also endorses the Driving for Opportunities Act of 2020, which would incentivize states to repeal laws that suspend driver’s licenses for unpaid justice-related fees.