Over 600,000 people are now being released fromprisons each year. Many suffer from a variety of serious difficulties as they attempt to reenter society. Among the most challenging situations they face is that of reentry into the labor market. Employment rates and earnings of exoffenders are low by almost any standard—though in most cases they were fairly low even beforethese (mostly) men were incarcerated. Low employmentrates seem closely related to the very high recidivismrates observed among those released from prison. Why are the employment and earnings of ex-offenders so low? What barriers do they face in gaining employment and in achieving earnings that are sufficient to live on independently? To what extent are these barriers based on their own characteristics and attitudes, as opposedto those of employers? Are there policies that are likely to reduce these barriers, and thereby improve employment and earnings among ex-offenders?
We review these issues in this paper. We begin by reviewing some evidence on the employment and earnings of ex-offenders. We then consider the barriers that appear to limit their employment opportunities—first on the supply side (i.e., their own characteristics and attitudes), and then on the demand side (i.e., those of employers) of the labor market. We also consider some potentially positive factors that will influence the employment prospects of ex-offenders over the next few decades—particularly, the growing tightness of the labor market that most economists expect in the future due to the impending retirements of the "baby boomers" generation. Finally, we review a range of policies that might reduce some of the barriers faced by ex-offenders in the labor market.
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