Recidivism and reentry are giant problems. Just ask any mayor or police chief—or any ex-offender or his family. Recidivism causes cities to become more unmanageable as crime spreads and the costs of criminal deterrence and prevention rise. Citizens become frightened and some are scarred by robbery and other forms of assault. The ex-offenders themselves—if they don't recidivate—face a life of dependency on their families and public assistance, itself a huge municipal expense, since most can't get jobs because of their criminal records. Or they end up on the streets, adding to the population of the homeless.
But now there is a glimmer of hope. Some enlightened city governments are giving ex-offenders a second chance. Rather than dismissing their job applications out of hand, they are doing everything from not asking about criminal histories to checking for it only after extending "provisional" offers of employment, according to an article by the Associated Press.
These programs have been adopted in various forms in such major cities as Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; Oakland, CA; Minneapolis, MN; and San Francisco; CA. Los Angeles is considering doing so, as is Norwich, CT. City fathers in New Haven, CT, recently proposed an ordinance to adopt such a measure.
Chicago still asks a question about criminal history, but balances the crime with its severity, time served, and evidence of rehabilitation when considering the application. The change is an important one in Chicago, where more than 20,000 ex-offenders arrive each year.
In Boston, "ex-offender status" is a protected status under civil rights law. The city does backdrop checks only for sensitive jobs, such as working in schools. Moreover, Boston requires all contractors that do business with the city to follow its policy.
Recidivism will never be erased entirely, and rehabilitation will not work with every ex-offender. But good job training in prisons, followed by solid reentry programs in the community, then just a crack at a job—at any level—might be a good first step at solving the destructive—and very expensive—recidivism problem.