Combating Discrimination Against the Formerly Incarcerated in the Labor Market

Ifeoma Ajunwa,Angela Onwuachi-Willig | June 1, 2018

Both discrimination by private employers and governmental restrictions in the form of statutes that prohibit professional licensing serve to exclude the formerly incarcerated from much of the labor market. This Essay explores and analyzes potential legislative and contractual means for removing these barriers to labor market participation by the formerly incarcerated. First, as a means of addressing discrimination by the state, Part I of this Essay explores the ways in which the adoption of racial impact statements—which mandate that legislators consider statistical analyses of the potential impact their proposed legislation may have on racial and ethnic groups prior to enacting such legislation—could help to reduce labor market discrimination against the formerly incarcerated. In so doing, this Part analyzes the influence of racial impact statements in the few states that have implemented them. Part II of this Essay examines the possibility of a contractual solution that could help to decrease discrimination against the formerly incarcerated in the private labor market, particularly by those employers who rely on the labor of imprisoned individuals. Specifically, this Part uses the fact that many private corporations rely on and profit from low-wage prison labor to argue that the state penal institutions that lease prisoners to such corporations should push for contractual agreements that stipulate that corporations relying on prison labor must revoke policies that bar employing the formerly incarcerated upon their release. In addition, this Part explicates how contractual stipulations may also provide for affirmative hiring policies for the formerly incarcerated. Finally, this Essay concludes by highlighting how failure to address continued labor market discrimination against the formerly incarcerated could render the formerly incarcerated a permanent economic underclass, thereby undermining notions of fairness and equality.