Young Women of Color with Criminal Records: A Barrier to Economic Stability for Low- Income Families and Communities

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1 Young Women of Color with Criminal Records: A Barrier to Economic Stability for Low- Income Families and Communities March 2014

2 2 Overview Over the past few years, young women of color have been represented at a disproportionately high rate among clients coming to Community Legal Services (CLS) for help with barriers to employment caused by criminal records. This is particularly notable, as the vast majority of research, programming, and policy attention regarding criminal records and barriers to employment have focused on men. The impact of criminal records on young women seeking employment has largely been overlooked. Many of the young female clients CLS serves are the sole providers for their families and survive on the very limited resources provided by safety-net programs. They typically are able and highly motivated to work so that they can Client Profile: Ms. Gamble Ms. Gamble is 27 years old and has one misdemeanor simple assault conviction from 2006, stemming from an altercation with an acquaintance. Ms. Gamble has a three-year-old son, and survives on public assistance, despite having a bachelor s degree in fashion marketing. Ms. Gamble has been rejected from countless jobs because of her criminal record and remains unemployed despite her tireless efforts to find work. better provide for their families. Yet in our experience, young women who often have more limited and minor criminal records than their male counterparts struggle more to find employment. Data from CLS s legal practice, as well as local and national data and research, shed some light on this troubling dynamic and what can be done to better connect these young women with employment opportunities. Observations from CLS s Experiences with Young Female Clients In the past two years (2012 and 2013), CLS has provided legal assistance to 406 young people between the ages of 17 and 30 with criminal records barriers. Of these young people, 63.88% (or 260) are women, while 35.87% (or 146) are men. Of these young women, 87% are black and 6% are Latina. In that same time period, CLS provided legal assistance to 988 clients age 30 and older with criminal records barriers. Of these clients, 47.37% (or 469) are women while 52.42% (or 519) are men. Despite this more even split, women are still overrepresented compared to the population of people with criminal records generally. Of female clients age 30 and over, 89% are black and 4% are Latina. CLS has observed that even though our young female clients tend to have minor criminal records, they struggle more in their search for employment than young

3 3 men. Our young female clients often look for work in retail and caregiving fields, which are fields that tend to be concerned about criminal records. Local and National Trends in Arrest Data, By Gender Nationally, women are the fastest growing segment of the correctional population and are more likely to be arrested for low-level non-violent crimes. 1 Arrest data from 2000 and 2009 reveals that arrests of women in the United States increased by 11.4% while the rate declined by 5% for men. 2 This rise in arrest rates among women has corresponded to a 22% increase in the number of incarcerated women, and women now represent one fourth of the probation and parole population. 3 In Philadelphia over the past five years, the percentage of black women who are arrested for low-level offenses jumped from 61% to 66%. 4 Characteristics of Women with Criminal Records Women who have criminal records pose a low risk to public safety. 5 Women generally have more limited criminal histories and lower rates of recidivism than men. 6 Women tend to enter the criminal justice system for non-violent crimes that are often drug-related or driven by poverty. 7 When women do commit violent crimes, they tend to be of lesser severity, are more reactive or Client Profile: Ms. Smith* Ms. Smith is 21 years old and has a young child. She has one misdemeanor conviction for terroristic threats that stemmed directly from a conflict with her abusive ex-boyfriend who was harassing her. She pled guilty because she is the sole caretaker for her child and could not risk being sent to prison. Ms. Smith was recently denied a job as a cashier at a grocery store, even after explaining the circumstances. * Client name has been changed to protect confidentiality. 1 UNIFORM CRIME REPORT, FED. BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (2012), available at 2 Crime in the United States, FED. BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (2009), available at 3 Id. 4 PA UNIF. CRIME REPORTING SYS., 5 BECKI NEY ET AL. TEN TRUTHS THAT MATTER WHEN WORKING WITH JUSTICE-INVOLVED WOMEN, NATIONAL RESOURCE CENTER ON JUSTICE INVOLVED WOMEN 1 (2012), available at 6 Id. 7 Id.

4 4 defensive in nature, and typically involve interpersonal conflicts. 8 Women with past criminal justice involvement have often suffered from physical or sexual abuse, and have often struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues. 9 These women often end up court-involved as a direct outgrowth of their experiences with these challenges. Impact on Employment Despite the low risk women with criminal records pose to public safety, the limited research that has been done on the issue suggests that women with criminal records face greater barriers to employment than men. 10 A study conducted from 2001 to 2006 in Maryland, Texas, Illinois, and Ohio found that in each of the states, around 61% of men were working after prison compared to around 37% of women. 11 One cause of this phenomenon is that women tend to work in retail and caregiving fields, which tend to be very concerned with criminal records. Nationally, 20.51% of the female workforce is employed in retail, while 46.64% of the female workforce is employed in service fields. 12 While the percent of all employers performing criminal background checks has risen drastically, this is particularly true in the retail field, as well as in fields like care-giving where employers may be legally mandated to perform background checks. 13 Male-dominated fields, such as manufacturing and construction, tend to be more willing to hire individuals with criminal records, while employers in the retail and service sectors tend to be less willing. 14 In many states, including Pennsylvania, state laws bar people with certain records from certain fields, particularly caregiving jobs working with seniors and children See generally HIRSCH, AMY, SOME DAYS ARE HARDER THAN HARD : WELFARE REFORM AND WOMEN WITH DRUG CONVICTIONS IN PENNSYLVANIA (1999); NEY ET AL, supra note 5, at 2. 9 NEY ET AL, supra note 5, at Id at RETURNING HOME: UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGES OF PRISONER REENTRY, URBAN INSTITUTE. (2007), available at 12 MARLENE KIM, BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS, WOMEN PAID LOW WAGES: WHO THEY ARE AND WHERE THEY WORK, (2000) 13 Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael & Michael A. Stoll, How Willing Are Employers to Hire Ex-offenders? 23 FOCUS 40 (2004), available at 14 Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael & Michael A. Stoll, The Effect of an Applicant s Criminal History on Employer Hiring Decisions and Screening Practices: Evidence from Los Angeles, National Poverty Center Working Paper Series #04-05 (2004), available at 15/04-15.pdf.

5 5 Policy Recommendations Based on national and local data, there is no doubt that an increasing proportion of women are facing arrest and conviction, largely for low-level and non-violent offenses. Because they tend to work in jobs where background checking is most common, or even legally required, women are particularly at risk for long-term joblessness. To ensure that this trend does not lead to a lifetime of unemployment and economic instability for young women and their families, a multi-tiered policy response is necessary. Policy recommendations include: Expanding expungement or sealing eligibility for individuals who have limited and minor criminal histories. Reforming over-restrictive state laws that impose lifetime, or other lengthy bans, on working in certain fields for individuals with criminal records. Client Profile: Ms. Matos Ms. Matos came to CLS at age 29. She is the mother of three children, and her family survives on public benefits. She has one misdemeanor disorderly conduct conviction from 2006 on her criminal record, which is preventing her from being able to find work. If individuals like Ms. Matos could get their limited criminal records expunged, it would greatly increase their ability to find employment and better support their families. Increasing access to diversion programs for first-time offenders to limit collateral consequences, and reforming police and prosecutorial practices of over-arresting and over-charging for very minor offenses. Developing more targeted employment training, programming, and support for women with criminal records. Focusing additional research on the impact of arrests and convictions for lowlevel offenses on the employment opportunities of young women living in poverty. * CLS would like to thank the student volunteers of the Civil Rights Law Project at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for their research support on this project. 15 See Older Adult Protective Services Act, , Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S. 6301, 24 P.S

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