Harry Graver argues the “Ban the Box” movement and any other attempts “directed towards supporting convicted felons” should be postponed “until New Haven’s larger fiscal health is restored” (“Don’t Ban the Box,” Oct. 24). What Graver fails to recognize is that positions like this actually reinforce racial inequality and amount to an unnecessary financial burden on the state.
Instead of forming policy based on prejudice against those with criminal records, we should look at the reality of crime and incarceration in this country. With a criminal justice system impacted by race at almost every critical juncture, to overlook the issues of the formerly incarcerated is to ignore the role incarceration plays in increasing racial inequality in the United States.
The Center for Community Alternatives finds a larger percentage of whites aged 18-25 use marijuana than their black and Hispanic counterparts. Yet in New York City, African Americans represent about 25 percent of residents but 52 percent of marijuana arrestees, a difference largely attributable to policing strategies in low versus high-income neighborhoods. This phenomenon is replicated in cities around the country,
Not only are black and Hispanic youth more likely to be arrested on the charge of possession of marijuana, but University of Chicago professor Bernard Harcourt found they are “more likely than their white counterparts to be convicted and sentenced to additional jail time” for an identical offense. It cannot be ignored that while white youth are more likely to use drugs, black and Hispanic youth are more likely to be convicted of drug use. Any resulting economic penalty from a criminal record, therefore, will impact minorities more substantially than any other group.
Devah Pager, a Princeton sociologist, found that compared to applicants with no criminal history, those with equal qualifications but also a felony conviction were offered employment at a much lower rate. Because this study used actors and fictitious resumes, the difference in hiring can be directly attributed to the stigma of a conviction alone.
The penalty from a criminal record was not even across all applicants, however, as the hiring discrimination affected 30 percent of white but 60 percent of black applicants. This outcome underscores the fact that racial inequality still exists. Not only are blacks more likely to be arrested and convicted of offenses than whites; they are also more stigmatized once they leave prison.
Perhaps, however, you may believe Graver is correct that financial solvency and crime reduction in New Haven, rather than the goal of racial equality, is what Yalies should support. Such a viewpoint, however, should still lead us to support movements such as “Ban the Box.”
The National H.I.R.E. Network has found that employment and education are the biggest predictors of recidivism. There is a clear correlation between employment and recidivism, so a concrete step for New Haven to reduce crime would be to increase employment and educational opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.
Considering the cost of recidivism to society, increased employment opportunities would actually help, not hurt, the financial solvency of cities such as New Haven and would represent a proactive step in increasing public safety. A report by the Pew Center on the States finds that if Connecticut reduced its recidivism rate by just 10 percent, it would save $20.8 million in a single year in prison costs.
Graver writes of “convicted felons” as if they are outside our societal obligations, dangerous men and women whom no business should be forced to consider for employment. Our criminal justice system, however, functions on the concept that individuals pay their debt to society in prison.
Advocating for continued discrimination based on past mistakes is inherently unjust. It is also counterproductive, if we value reducing racial inequality, increasing public safety and eliminating unnecessary burdens on taxpayers. Graver urges the candidates for alderman to realize that actions have consequences. I agree — the consequences of continued discrimination against individuals with criminal records are too serious to ignore.
Emily Graham is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com.