Earlier this week, Georgetown University released a report, African-American Employment, Population & Housing Trends in Washington, D.C. The key findings indicate African-Americans in the District of Columbia have experienced steady patterns of declining income gains, higher unemployment, and lower educational attainment than white residents. The report notes that by 2020, 50% of all new jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree or above, and nearly 60% will require at least some form of education and training beyond high school. These requirements severely limit the ability of African-Americans to be competitive in the employment market. Further, 60,000 adult African-American D.C. residents have not finished high school, 50% have no formal education past high school (compared to 5% of white residents), and only 12.3% of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree (compared to 37.1% of white residents). These statistics are devastating.
The constraints discussed in Georgetown University’s report impact the District’s returning citizen population, nearly all whom are African-American, in an even more detrimental way. Approximately 60,000 D.C. residents have a criminal record and each year, an estimated 8,000 residents return to the District after serving prison sentences.
I strongly believe returning citizen employment outcomes can be improved by beginning the job application process prior to release from incarceration. With a sufficient investment of resources, residents coming home could be contacted by a District government agency (or other affiliated organizations) while they are still incarcerated. Residents should be given the opportunity to complete an intake form that surveys their interests, educational level, and relevant skills. Having this information beforehand would accelerate the placement process. The agency/organization could contact potential employers so that meetings and interviews could be scheduled prior to release. Additionally, the agency/organization could send resources to residents that provide information about the interview process, such as resume formulation, practice interview questions, proper etiquette, and the like. All of this will build confidence and hope in the individual as well as increase the likelihood that they will follow through with the job application process. Coming home without a plan leads to unfavorable outcomes. Persons get frustrated with the system and often revert back to their previous behavior. Already having the job application process in play, and with the assistance of “Ban-the Box,” recidivism will be prevented and returning citizens will be kept on the path to success. Moreover, the D.C. Council passed the Incarceration to Incorporated Entrepreneurship Act of 2016, but it has not yet been funded. Fully investing in this initiative would most certainly assist with creating essential opportunities for our returning citizens.
Melanie Bates is an attorney based in Washington, D.C. She has a passion for criminal justice reform and believes that poverty, lack of education, and other social issues should not feed the pipeline to prison. Through consistent advocacy, she desires to alleviate the factors that force many people to become a part of the criminal justice system. The views expressed here are her own.