Employment for some Americans with criminal records is

Monique Lewis wants to become a preschool teacher because she loves working and being with children. The San Diego-based mother has three of her own: a 21-year-old daughter, and two boys, ages 15 and 9.

But in 2010, when Lewis was “trying to make a little extra money,” she was arrested and convicted of drug possession. A felony conviction and 15-month sentence dashed her dreams of becoming a preschool teacher.

Thousands of laws Across the country Limit access to licensure or employment opportunities for those with criminal records. In some states, people of faith cannot work as barbers, in airports or schools, in government, or even as an Uber driver.

Monique Lewis, 42, (left) works two minimum-wage jobs to support herself and three children after a drug conviction prevented her from pursuing a career in schools.

Courtesy of Monique Lewis

Since being released from prison on New Year’s Day 2012, Lewis, 42, told CBS News that he has learned his lesson and “hasn’t looked back since, even though he has had to get a job with a decent income. Struggled for”. paying the rent for her family” and “putting food on the table”. She works two minimum-wage jobs, one as a caregiver at an autistic group home, and the other at a call center. She would say They are “living day to day.”

Instability is increasing for Americans with criminal records.

Lewis’ experience is common among the estimated 78 million Americans who have a criminal record. gave 2023 National Survey of People with RecordsA report released Friday by the criminal justice reform advocacy group Alliance for Safety and Justice found that one in two people with old convictions cited difficulty finding a job, keeping employment or making ends meet. granted – and those convicted of felonies earn an average of $23,000. per annum.

With precarious housing and access to good education opportunities, Alliance for Safety and Justice CEO Jay Jordan told CBS News that stabilization and reintegration is “almost impossible” for people with criminal records.

“Without access to good jobs, adequate housing, educational opportunities and more, a significant portion of the American population is pushed into poverty and instability,” Jordan said.

More than half of those surveyed said financial reasons — such as Lewis’ decision to sell drugs to make extra money — led to their arrests. A mother from Arkansas, now living in California, who was included in the survey, told researchers: “I was newly pregnant with my third child and was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed my babies. “Someone asked me if I would stay open. To make a quick buck by selling drugs, and out of desperation, I agreed.”

Judges said his conviction and subsequent imprisonment worsened his financial difficulties. When she came home, “I couldn’t find a job, was restricted to low-income housing, and couldn’t get food stamps or financial assistance,” Sukati said.

Looking for work against the odds.

Achieving economic independence is difficult for people leaving prison, but the barriers are rising sharply for black Americans — who make up 38 percent of people inside the criminal system. According to Prison Policy Initiative. The employment rate for black men decreased between 4.7% and 5.4% when they tried to find a job after leaving prison, compared to the employment rate for white men between 1.1% and 1.3%. decreased, According to research From the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

2018 report by Brookings Institute It found that 45% of ex-prisoners are unemployed during the entire first year after release.

There are some in more than 30 states and 150 counties and cities. “Ban the box” style legislation Or laws that prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial job application, and instead require that background checks be delayed until later in the hiring process. go Non-profit organization Justice in the workplace.

Sealed, then cleared away for posterity.

Policy solutions have been proposed to ease the transition for the formerly incarcerated — but record expungement is one option that Jordan says will “change the game.”

Jordan was able in May 2023 to have his 2004 robbery conviction overturned in 2022 after nearly a decade of trying under a California law.

California Senate Bill 731 – believed to be the most extensive in the country – was implemented earlier this year. The law allows courts to automatically electronically seal the records of Californians who have been arrested, but not convicted of a crime.

It also allows most people who have gone to prison to petition the court to have their records sealed electronically after completing parole and remaining crime-free for four years, in addition to registering Excludes records related to sexual offenses committed.

Monique Lewis, along with her two sons, struggles to make ends meet after leaving prison more than a decade ago.

Courtesy of Monique Lewis

States across the country have different levels of record expungement and clearance. gave Restoration of rights plan It found that 16 states, including New Mexico, Kansas and Illinois, have broad opportunities to seal records, 21 states are limited, nine are very limited, and four—Alaska, Florida, Hawaii and Wisconsin—provide no opportunity to seal. Do or clear the record.

Lewis is trying to stay positive and work hard “so I don’t have to ask anybody to help provide for my kids,” and she’s currently trying to break her record in California. .

He said that she has been traveling to the courts repeatedly with her documents. Lewis said people facing barriers with their records “shouldn’t be pushed aside like we don’t matter”.

“We matter.”

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