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How a Criminal Record Can Keep You Unemployed for Life

How a Criminal Record Can Keep You Unemployed for Life

Imagine a 44-year-old man who lives with his wife and three kids in East Harlem, New York.

Trying to make ends meet, the man puts in for as many part-time gigs as possible until he can land a steady, full-time job to support him and his family. In one of his part-time jobs, he’s a porter and doorman at a swanky high-rise building in the East Village, and he loves it. Even though he sometimes gets calls to run errands in the middle of the night, he always says yes because the pay is great (at $17/hour) and the position holds promise that he’ll be hired there full time.

Until then, though, he needs all the work he can get, so he applies for another part-time job at a building across the street, and in the application, he truthfully discloses a burglary conviction from twenty years ago. Too bad for him. Suddenly, the swanky building at which he hoped to build a future stops giving him shifts. He calls his boss to find out why, and he’s told that they found out about his record, and he can’t work there anymore.

The man committed the burglary when he was 22. He was a lousy burglar, and he soon got caught. The judge didn’t sentence him to jail or prison, giving him five years’ probation instead, and the man earned his release from probation in two years. But twenty years later, the conviction is still there, and he can never serve enough of a sentence to step out from its shadow.

These collateral consequences of a criminal conviction affect us all. They are part of the problem of over-criminalization, and they create a permanent underclass of the underemployed and unemployable. According to most estimates, the percentage of working-age adults with criminal records lies somewhere between 25 and 33 percent. In 2006, the Justice Department pegged the number at 30 percent. Those numbers alone make you wonder what it all means when we talk about “those” criminals.

If you have a criminal conviction in your past, you may have options worth exploring to rehabilitate your record. You should consult with a lawyer in your jurisdiction about whether you can have your conviction(s) expunged from your record or whether there are other forms of relief that are available to you.

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