First-of-its-kind national survey of people with old records reveals that most live in poverty, unable to obtain a job, housing, and more
Lack of redemption for Americans with old records perpetuates cycles of crime, leaves millions to suffer economic devastation
WASHINGTON – Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), the nation’s largest public safety reform organization, and its flagship program, TimeDone, released findings today from its groundbreaking national survey of Americans with a past record of arrest or conviction. Voices of Redemption: A National Survey of People with Old Records highlights a systemic crisis that perpetuates cycles of crime and harms our collective safety when people are blocked from healing and redemption.
Findings from the first-of-its-kind survey reveal that the majority of people with records have suffered significant barriers to economic mobility, nearly all have been victims of crime who did not receive support in the aftermath of harm, and most experienced crisis prior to arrest.
In the United States, 78 million people have an old legal record – one in three adults, and as many as half of adults in some states. Long after their sentences are complete, many continue to face 40,000 state and federal laws and restrictions that push them into post-conviction poverty – a life-long sentence where every chance at economic mobility is blocked.
The survey found that of those sampled:
- 2 in 5 with an old felony conviction (40%) have an annual gross household income of less than $25,000;
- 6 in 10 (60%) have an annual gross household income of less than $50,000; and
- More than 2 in 3 people with an old felony (69%) have had trouble paying for groceries
People with records experience numerous restrictions on eligibility for employment. Employers can prohibit people with past convictions from eligibility depending on the state and the law, including career options that require licenses, like a cosmetologist or massage therapist. Of those surveyed, more than half of people with an old conviction (55%) cited difficulties obtaining a job, maintaining employment, or making a living.
Private landlords and public housing limit the eligibility of people with past convictions to attain housing, which destabilizes individuals and whole families. Of those surveyed, more than 4 in 10 people with a past conviction (44%) cited difficulties obtaining housing and more than 1 in 2 people with a felony conviction (53%) have been evicted or forced to move because they were unable to pay housing bills.
“Attaining stability and reintegration for people with old records is nearly impossible,” says Jay Jordan, CEO of ASJ and TimeDone National Director. “Without access to good jobs, decent housing, education opportunities, and more, a significant portion of the U.S. population is pushed into poverty and instability – negatively impacting our economy and collective safety.”
Findings from the survey also underscore the need for more community crime prevention and victim support. When people facing crisis are disconnected from access to support and pathways to stability, they often become vulnerable to experiencing preventable harm – including becoming a victim of crime. The survey found that of those sampled, 9 out of 10 people (91%) have been the victim of a crime and more than half (51%) of victims with an old record would have wanted but did not receive help from their state victim compensation program.
Given the enormous number of barriers to stability people with a record face and the connection between instability, victimization and cycles of crime, the following policy reforms are recommended:
- Clear, accessible processes for sealing old records;
- Reentry programs that offer basic stabilizing support, including housing and employment assistance;
- Resources for prevention, treatment and recovery as opposed to more spending on incarceration; and
- Community-based violence prevention, trauma recovery and victim services.
ABOUT THE ALLIANCE FOR SAFETY AND JUSTICE
Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) is a national advocacy organization that aims to replace ineffective criminal justice system policies with what works to keep people safe. We represent diverse crime survivors as well as people living with old records as key public safety stakeholders. ASJ brings our members together with state leaders and coalition partners to win reforms that stop cycles of crime, reduce costly incarceration, and make communities safer. We support a range of “shared safety” reforms, including crime prevention, community health, rehabilitation, economic mobility, and trauma recovery. For more information, visit https://allianceforsafetyandjustice.org.