Connecticut needs to remove barriers that make it harder for people to obtain better paying jobs once they are released from prison, Connecticut Voices for Children said in a new report Tuesday.
CT Voices said certain policy and education barriers limit the career options for people once they’ve served their sentence, and that nearly two-thirds of the jobs available to them don’t pay entry-level wages that are enough for an adult to support themself.
“It’s important to remember that this is by design,” CT Voices Executive Director Emily Byrne said during a virtual press conference. She said Connecticut has removed some of those hurdles in recent years, but still has to do more to help convicts find gainful employment.
CT Voices’ report offered several policy recommendations, including support for inmates and restrictions on policy that limit their ability to seek jobs or education upon release. Some of the ideas included drivers licenses and guaranteed basic income.
A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont said he supports further changes to help make re-entry easier, although he did not weigh in on any specific recommendations in the report.
“Connecticut is a national leader in lowering barriers to long-term careers, stable housing, high-quality education, and other key components of successful re-entry,” the spokesman, Adam Joseph, said in a statement. “Governor Lamont looks forward to working with state lawmakers and advocates next session to advance Connecticut’s progress and broaden the impact.”
Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, also said he is open to “removing potential barriers that hinder the ability of people with criminal records to seek well-paying jobs and higher education is good public policy” next session.
He added the state has “an ever-evolving labor force, so it is important to find ways to connect reentering people to the workforce, which helps keep our communities safer.”
Other Democrat and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
CT Voices Research and Policy Fellow Lauren Ruth said people are less likely to reoffend and return to prison if they have employment, but recidivism also drops as pay increases.
The report cites a study out of North Carolina examining recidivism that found that people in the top 25% of pay among participants in the study were half as likely to reoffend as people in the bottom quartile.
People in that bottom 25%, meanwhile, were just as likely to commit another crime as those who had no job.
The report considers jobs that pay at least 60% of the state median income as offering sustainable compensation, or $39,761 a year, but noted some experts would still consider that too low to be a living wage in Connecticut.
That, Ruth said, pushed more people into lower paying jobs once they are released from prison. Young people who serve time in prison are far less likely to have a college degree or the relevant job experience needed to get higher paying jobs.
CT Voices looked at 325 occupations that do not require a bachelor’s degree or at least five years relevant experience, and found that 65% don’t pay enough in entry-level wages for adults to support themselves. That’s compared with only 8% that pay enough to support one child and 4% that pay enough to support two children.
Those higher paying jobs can also be hard to come by. CT Voices said 75% of the jobs that offer sustainable pay to entry-level workers have federal or state policies that create barriers to employment.
“We can provide education and training to folks re-entering their communities to get some of the higher wage jobs in this data set,” Ruth said, “but without doing work to raise Connecticut’s economic tide more broadly, re-entering workers will continue to feel like their sinking.”
Some of CT Voice’s recommendations focus on helping people improve their chances of getting higher paying jobs, including expanding career planning and offering it to inmates before they’re released.
The report also suggests expanding work release programs. Additionally, CT Voices said lawmakers should expand “Ban the Box” rules, which prohibit many employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications, to postsecondary education programs.
The report also suggested further limitations on employers excluding people for convictions, with barriers only applying to charges that relate directly to the job duties.
CT Voices said transportation is often an issue for people looking to get and maintain employment, and the report offered three suggestions. One recommendation was to only suspend or revoke drivers’ licenses for driving-related incidents and not other offenses.
Additionally, CT Voices wants lawmakers to offer driver’s licenses to anyone who is eligible when they are released and rideshare vouchers to help those with limited access to public transportation.
Other recommendations focused on financial support, including further increases to the minimum wage. The minimum wage is $15 per hour and increases are tied to inflation, but Ruth said the legislature should look at a larger hike.
CT Voices also recommended offering guaranteed minimum income for people upon release. Ruth said that would help people either pay for basic needs or attend school, reducing the risk of recidivism.