here - The Sentencing Project

poverty and opportunity profile
Americans with
Criminal Records
The United States is the global leader in incarceration. Today, more than 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in state and federal
prisons, a figure that has quintupled since 1980. Adding in jails, the number of Americans who are behind bars rises to 2.2 million.
One in three U.S. adults has been arrested by age 23. Communities of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals; and
people with histories of abuse or mental illness are disproportionately affected. As a result, between 70 million and 100 million—or
as many as one in three Americans—have some type of criminal record. Having even a minor criminal record, such as a misdemeanor or even an arrest without conviction, can create an array of lifelong barriers that stand in the way of successful re-entry. This
has broad implications for individuals’ and families’ economic security, as well as for our national economy. Mass incarceration and
hyper-criminalization serve as major drivers of poverty; having a criminal record can present obstacles to employment, housing,
public assistance, education, family reunification, building good credit, and more.
Rise of mass incarceration
The number of Americans incarcerated in federal and state
prisons has quintupled over the past three decades
Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated
than white men, and Hispanic men are 2.5 times
more likely to be incarcerated than white men
Disproportionate impact
on communities of color
Sources: Analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics Data by The Sentencing Project, “Trends in U.S.
Corrections” (2013), available at
Corrections_Fact_sheet.pdf; E. Anne Carson and Daniela Golinelli, “Prisoners in 2012” (Washington:
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013), available at
Source: Analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data by The Sentencing Project, “Trends in U.S.
Corrections” (2013), available at
c Effect on families
As of 2007, more than half of Americans in state
and federal prisons were parents of minor children
The back end of mass incarceration
and hyper-criminalization
As many as one in three Americans have criminal records
As many as
100 million
Americans have
criminal records
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children (U.S. Department of
Justice, 2008), available at
1 half in ten | americans with criminal records
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2012 (U.S.
Department of Justice, 2014), available at
Rising costs and a net loss
Correctional expenditures have quadrupled since 1982
With 87 percent of employers conducting background checks, a
criminal record can be a major barrier to employment
State and federal expenditures (in billions of dollars)
More than 60 percent
of formerly incarcerated
individuals are unemployed one year after
being released;
GDP loss
$65 billion*
Barriers to employment
those who do
find jobs take
home 40
percent less
pay annually
* Employment losses due to criminal records resulted in as much as $65 billion in lost gross domestic
product output in 2008.
Sources: Author’s calculations are based on Bureau of the Census, Annual Survey of State Government
Finances (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1982–2012), available at
historical_data.html; Tracey Kyckelhahn, “State Corrections Expenditures, FY 1982-2010” (Washington:
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014), available at;
Nathan James, “The Bureau of Prisons (BOP): Operations and Budget” (Washington: Congressional
Research Service, 2014), available at John Schmitt and Kris
Warner, “Ex-offenders and the Labor Market” (Washington: Center for Economic and Policy Research,
2010), available at
Barriers to public assistance
hurt women and children
In many states, people with felony drug convictions are
banned for life from receiving certain types of assistance
180,000 women
are subject to the
lifetime ban on
Temporary Assistance
for Needy Families
Sources: Society for Human Resource Management, “Background Checking—The Use of Criminal
Background Checks in Hiring Decisions” (2012), available at
surveyfindings/articles/pages/criminalbackgroundcheck.aspx; Bruce Western, “Collateral Costs”
(Washington: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010), available at
Mass incarceration is
a major driver of poverty
Without mass incarceration, 5 million fewer Americans would
have been poor between 1980 and 2014
The U.S. poverty rate would have
dropped by 20 percent
if not for the trend of mass incarceration
over the past several decades
*Figure represents an estimate of the number of women who may now
be subject to the TANF ban in the 12 states with the most punitive policies
Source: The Sentencing Project, “A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony Drug Ban
on Welfare Benefits” (2011), available at
Source: Robert H. DeFina and Lance Hannon, “The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty,”
Crime and Delinquency 59 (4) (2013): 562–586, available at
We cannot be a nation of “one strike and you’re out.” Understanding that a criminal record can be a lifelong barrier to economic
security and mobility—with adverse effects on families, communities, and our entire economy—we must craft policies to
ensure that Americans with criminal records have a fair shot at a decent life. We must remove barriers to employment, housing,
public assistance, education, and building good credit. In a recent and welcome development, bipartisan momentum appears
to be building in support of criminal justice reform, in part due to the skyrocketing costs of mass incarceration, as well as an
increased focus on evidence-based approaches to public safety. Failure to address the obstacles associated with criminal records
as part of a larger anti-poverty agenda risks missing a major piece of the puzzle in the effort to truly enable shared prosperity for
all Americans. Moving forward, we must continue to break down these barriers to economic security and ensure that second
chances are within reach for Americans with criminal records.
For full source information, see Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich, “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers
to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2014).
2 half in ten | americans with criminal records