Chapter 8 - Appendix B
Over the past two decades, as law enforcement has become a front-line response to substance abuse, many people with substance abuse disorders have entered the criminal justice system. The increase in the number of people in the criminal justice system for drug-related crimes is startling. Between 1980 and 1997, drug arrests tripled to 1,584,000; 80 percent were for possession (U.S. Department of Justice, 1999b). In 1980, 6 percent of the offenders in State prisons and 25 percent of the offenders in Federal prisons had been incarcerated for drug offenses. By 1996, there had been an elevenfold increase in the number of inmates in State prisons on drug offenses, and drug offenders constituted 23 percent of the State prison population. For Federal prisons, the increase over the 15-year period was twelvefold, with drug offenders constituting 60 percent of the prison population.
This astronomical increase does not take into account the high number of individuals with substance abuse disorders who are arrested and incarcerated for drug-related crimes (e.g., property crimes, robbery, assault). In 1997, 57 percent of State prison inmates had used drugs in the month prior to arrest, and one-sixth committed their offense to obtain money to buy drugs (Mumola, 1999).
The "war on drugs" has had a disproportionate impact on African Americans as a result of three overlapping policy decisions: the concentration of drug law enforcement in inner cities, harsher sentencing policies, and the emphasis on law enforcement at the expense of prevention and treatment (The Sentencing Project, 1999a). Given the shortage of substance abuse treatment options in many inner cities, substance abuse in these communities is more likely to receive attention as a criminal justice problem than as a social problem (The Sentencing Project, 1999a). As a result, African Americans who use illicit substances are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at greater rates than other groups. While Federal surveys show that 13 percent of those who reported using drugs within the previous month are African American, this group constitutes 35 percent of those arrested for possession, 55 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of those sentenced to prison (Mauer and Huling, 1995; SAMHSA, 1998a). According to current data, the Department of Justice estimates that 28 percent of African American males will enter a Federal or State prison at least once during their lives; the rates are 16 percent for Hispano/Latino males and 4.4 percent for White males (U.S. Department of Justice, 1999a).
The exponential increase in the number of individuals arrested and convicted of drug offenses and the disproportionate representation of African Americans in that group means that many drug and alcohol counselors are working with ex-offenders and that a large proportion of these ex-offender clients are African American. A criminal record is an additional barrier to employment for anyone recovering from a substance abuse disorder. African Americans and members of other minorities (including individuals without substance abuse and criminal histories) also experience employment discrimination, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Counselors should be aware that the ex-offenders among their clients will have more difficulty finding work and that clients' experiences with discrimination may diverge along racial and ethnic lines.
This chapter describes the barriers ex-offenders seeking employment face and suggests ways for substance abuse treatment programs and counselors to help offenders overcome these barriers. These barriers tend to fall into two categories: internal (i.e., attitudes and characteristics ex-offenders bring to the process) and societal (i.e., the attitudes society has toward those with criminal records and the means it uses to exclude ex-offenders from the workplace). Both types of barriers can be difficult, although not impossible, to overcome.
Each ex-offender is a unique individual; yet as a group, ex-offenders tend to bring the following common characteristics or attitudes to the process of vocational rehabilitation:
Offenders who have served time face additional barriers, and the more time someone has served, the more serious are the barriers to employment. The following points can help the substance abuse treatment counselor better understand the experience that ex-offenders may have had in prison.
Successful adaptation to prison also requires the individual to accept that the everyday rules of cause and effect and reward and punishment have been suspended. Correction officers can (and do) punish groups of inmates because of the actions of individuals. They can (and do) arbitrarily single out and punish an offender for no reason other than personal dislike. Searches of cells frequently result in destruction of inmate property, including treasured possessions such as photographs and valuables such as typewriters and legal papers. Any privilege earned with good behavior can be revoked at a moment's notice on a trumped-up charge. After years in one facility, an inmate can find herself on a bus to another without notice.
Living in a place where the logic of cause and effect is suspended and justice occurs only by chance can create despair and anger. This, combined with the loss of autonomy, can cause an inmate to stop believing that he is responsible for his life or that anything he does can ever matter. He learns that it is useless to try to control his environment or what happens to him; attempts to plan for the future are almost always futile and frustrating. Yet taking responsibility, making decisions, planning for the future, and following through are precisely the social skills that the released offender needs in order to successfully function in the community, especially in the world of work.
However, reality rarely lives up to such expectations. After release, many ex-offenders are overwhelmed by personal and financial troubles. Some have difficulty adjusting to relationships with spouses and families who have changed and learned to live with greater independence while the ex-offenders were away. Others may return to old relationships that were built on the ex-offender's (or mutual) drug use. Still others, who are struggling to comply with substance abuse treatment and vocational requirements, may face hostility from family and friends who may not like the "new" person the ex-offender is being asked to (or has) become. The ex-offender can experience crushing disappointment at how difficult life is and how much adjustment is required. Having learned early in his life to deal with stress by drinking alcohol and using illicit substances, the ex-offender may be tempted by the pull of the streets and old friends or relatives who still abuse substances.
Overcoming the formidable barriers offenders bring to vocational rehabilitation (VR) requires engaging offenders in services. Substance abuse treatment programs that engage ex-offenders should offer the following:
Counselors can also demonstrate respect by holding conversations with clients privately, looking at clients directly and asking, "How are you?" before launching into "business." An attractive and clean waiting area also conveys respect for clients. Program staff can demonstrate respect and cultural competence by explaining why certain questions need to be asked. For example, when asking about school and work experiences during which the client may have repeated failures, program staff should introduce the questions by stating, "In order for us to work together to find the best career path for you, I need to ask you some questions about school and work that may seem upsetting to you. Please let me know if there is a better way to ask you about this information, because that will help both of us."
There are many strategies that substance abuse treatment programs can institute on a program level to help clients who are ex-offenders overcome barriers to employment. Following are some suggested strategies.
Between 1986 and 1991, the number of women in State prisons for drug offenses increased by 433 percent, compared with a 283 percent increase for men in the same time period (LeBlanc, 1996). The number of African American women incarcerated for drug offenses in State prisons increased by 828 percent from 1986 to 1991 (Mauer and Huling, 1995).
Women in prison differ from their male counterparts in several significant ways: (1) they are less likely to have committed a violent offense; (2) they are more likely to have a dual diagnosis (substance abuse disorder and a psychiatric disorder); (3) they are more likely to have experienced multiple incidents of physical and sexual abuse; and (4) they are more likely to be responsible for their children's support (Morash et al., 1998; Teplin et al., 1996).
In a study of women in California prisons (Bloom et al., 1994), 31 percent reported experiencing sexual abuse as a child and 23 percent as adults, and 29 percent reported physical abuse as a child and 60 percent as adults, usually by partners. Domestic violence may continue to be a risk for women when they return to the community.
Economic self-sufficiency is a challenge for ex-offenders who have not developed employment skills, particularly for women faced with supporting themselves and their children. Women who were involved in drug dealing generally had low-ranking roles, and many women have been forced by economic need to participate in sex work or prostitution. In addition, educational opportunities and job training in prison may have been different for men than for women. A 1980 General Accounting Office study found that women within the Bureau of Prisons had access to only 13 prison industry jobs, while men had access to 84 (Miller, 1990).
Women with substance abuse problems who were incarcerated are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than their male counterparts (Wellisch et al., 1993). In a large survey of incarcerated female prisoners conducted by the American Correctional Association, only 18 percent of the women indicated that they were qualified to obtain satisfactory employment following release from incarceration (American Correctional Association, 1990).
Female ex-offenders are extremely vulnerable to recidivism and relapse if they cannot sustain themselves economically through lawful employment. This has become even more critical since passage of the Federal Welfare-To-Work legislation (see Chapter 1 for more information).
Substance abuse treatment programs can institute strategies on a program level to help address the special needs and considerations of female clients who are ex-offenders. Following are examples of such strategies (see also Figure 8-1 for an example of a program that addresses women's issues).
Employers who are reluctant to hire people with histories of substance abuse can be even less enthusiastic about substance abusers with criminal records. Ex-offenders may be viewed as unreliable and morally deficient and feared as volatile and dangerous. When this attitude is combined with the lack of marketable skills and scant work experience common to many ex-offenders, there seems to be little to recommend ex-offenders as employees.
There is no Federal statute like the Americans with Disabilities Act (see Chapter 2) to protect ex-offenders against employment discrimination. Although there are rulings that prohibit employers from asking applicants about arrests,1 employers are free to ask about convictions. In fact, some employers have access to offender criminal records. For example, applicants' criminal records may be screened by employers at any level in the public sector, by licensing agencies (and employment in a great number of occupations requires obtaining a license), by child care agencies, by educational institutions, by health care institutions, and by financial institutions. In fact, some employers may be required to ask about criminal history and to verify the information the offender supplies by checking official records. Which employers can (or must) obtain the criminal records of job applicants varies by State. Counselors and their clients should learn such information about prospective employers ahead of time so they can formulate strategies for addressing employers' concerns (see Chapter 3 for more information).
There are ways employers can obtain information about applicants' criminal records other than by obtaining official records. Employers can develop relationships with law enforcement officials and receive information "under the table." Employers can also pay consumer reporting (or "credit" reporting) agencies for information about applicants' criminal records and work histories. The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits such agencies from reporting negative information that is more than 7 years old when an applicant has applied for a job paying less than $20,000 a year. Some States have Fair Credit Reporting laws that provide additional protections.
Some States, such as New York, offer ex-offenders explicit statutory protection against employment discrimination.2 New York's statute (Article 23A of the Correction Law) makes it illegal to deny an ex-offender employment because of his criminal history unless the offender's convictions are directly related to the job he seeks or his employment would create an unreasonable risk to the safety of people or property. The statute requires the employer to consider each ex-offender as an individual, weighing factors such as the specific duties and responsibilities of the job and the bearing, if any, that the offender's criminal history has on his fitness to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the job; the seriousness of the offense(s) committed; how long ago the offense(s) occurred and the individual's age at the time; and any evidence of rehabilitation. While the statute is well drafted, in practice employers have wide latitude to reject ex-offenders on the ground that their convictions are directly related to the jobs they seek or that their employment would pose an unreasonable risk to people or property.
Unfortunately, once an ex-offender has been rejected by an employer, there is seldom legal recourse, even when statutory protections exist. It will be the rare ex-offender who can demonstrate that she was clearly the superior applicant for a particular job. Therefore, for the ex-offender, as for the person recovering from substance abuse disorders, the best strategy is similar to the "Ounce of Prevention" strategy outlined in Chapter 7. Counselors should help clients who are ex-offenders to
The statement should then offer evidence that the ex-offender has overcome his problems and changed his life. The client should be prepared to provide facts to support the claim that he has mended his ways. For example, a client with a criminal record for drug possession could point out that he has been sober for a year, that his criminal activities were limited to the period he was abusing drugs, that he has successfully completed a rehabilitation program, and that his drug use history and criminal activities are behind him. A client who served time for robbery could point to the efforts she made while in prison to prepare for a different future, such as taking academic or vocational courses, earning a degree, or participating in substance abuse treatment. Or, a client can tell the employer that since his release he has become active in his church choir or that he shovels snow for the elderly man next door. Evidence of change could also include written recommendations from community members, such as a minister, parole officer, or counselor. (Note that if the counselor at a substance abuse treatment program is asked to provide a reference, the client must sign a proper consent form, as discussed in Chapter 7.)
During an interview, a client may have the opportunity to acknowledge that he is asking the employer to "take a chance" on him and to address the employer's concerns directly. For example, an ex-offender could say, "I know this job carries a lot of responsibility and that you are probably concerned about whether I can handle it or whether I will start using drugs again. Well, I went into treatment and have been drug free for 2 years. Once I entered treatment, I stopped getting into trouble." Perhaps the client can offer a concrete example that shows that once she became sober her attitudes and actions changed; for example, she volunteered to work in a soup kitchen. Such steady work is evidence that she will reliably show up for work and pitch in. A reference letter from the organization running the soup kitchen could reduce a potential employer's negative view of the ex-offender.
The following are strategies that substance abuse treatment programs can implement to help clients who are ex-offenders overcome barriers to employment.
A report (Finn, 1999) described four programs across the country that prepare inmates and parolees for employment by providing intensive educational and life skills services, social support, and postemployment followup, in addition to traditional job preparation and placement assistance. These programs are (1) the Safer Foundation in Chicago, (2) the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York City, (3) Project RIO (Reintegration of Offenders) in Texas, and (4) the Corrections Clearinghouse (CCH) in Washington State. Although each program is unique, they share program components that can be replicated by others. Basic services include life skills training, job preparation skills, job placement, social support, and followup assistance. With regard to providing support services and followup, all four programs devote resources to helping ex-offenders address substance abuse, affordable housing, child care, emotional difficulties, and other barriers to securing and maintaining employment. These programs also follow up with clients after placement. See Figure 8-2 for a summary of the four programs.
1 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (29 U.S.C.
§2000e-2000e-17), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race,
has been interpreted to outlaw questions about an applicant's arrests.
This ruling is based on two premises: (1) Members of minority racial groups
are arrested more often than whites, which means that this question tends
to disqualify a disproportionate number of minority applicants, and (2)
an arrest that has not resulted in conviction of a crime has little value
as a test of character. A few States, such as New York, have adopted legislation
that offers limited protection to ex-offenders from employment discrimination.
Unlike the Federal laws protecting individuals with disabilities, however,
the law permits employers to weigh an individual's convictions against
a set of factors in determining whether to hire him. Employers can weigh
the disability in terms of whether or not the employer believes it means
that the applicant cannot fulfill the "essential functions"
of the job (and perhaps also that changes to the job situation would fundamentally
alter management prerogatives).
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Chapter 8 - Appendix B