Accumulation of Risk

In low-income communities with high rates of criminal justice system involvement, multiple barriers—an accumulation of risk—threaten to keep residents in a perpetual cycle of poverty and crime. The NYC Justice Corps serves communities confronting a variety of challenges:

  • average poverty rate of 34.42%, compared to 20.9% citywide.1 It is not unusual to find families that have lived below the poverty line for two or three generations.
  • high school graduation rate of 24.49%,2 far lower than the city’s average of 64.7%.3
  • average unemployment rate of 17.2%, far higher than the City’s average of 11.2%.4
  • health concerns, including insufficient access to fresh produce and limited recreational facilities, which are contributing factors in the prevalence of obesity and other medical issues. Justice Corps target communities in the South Bronx as well as East and Central Harlem have the highest asthma rates in New York City. 5

The accumulation of risk is particularly acute for young men of color, ages 16-24, who represent 91% of all admissions to NYC correctional facilities.6  Nationally, more young African American men (20-34 years old) without a high school diploma or GED are behind bars (37%) than employed (26%).7

How can communities confronting so many challenges welcome young people home after a period of incarceration? In the Justice Corps neighborhoods, social capital that can lead to jobs is scarce. With limited employment opportunities, there are also fewer people working who can help job-seekers connect with potential employers.  Further, low-income job seekers who have a history of crime, drugs, or intermittent work may have few people who are willing to vouch for them in their search for employment, creating an additional disadvantage in the labor market.8  Multi-generational cycles of poverty can dim young people’s hopes and prevent them from getting the practical help they need to find jobs or apply to college.

Daunting statistics highlight how hard it is for people on parole or probation to find work. Sixty to seventy-five percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed up to a year after being released.9 Having a criminal record reduces the likelihood of an interview call-back or job offer by 60% for black applicants and 30% for white applicants.10 Men with criminal convictions who are able to find work earn an average of 30%-40% less than men without criminal records.11 Finally, even for those who do find work, a lower wage is likely: a history of incarceration decreases the total earnings of white males by 2%, of Hispanic males by 6%, and of Black males by 9%.12

Without an avenue to economic advancement, young adults involved in the justice system are at risk of life-long poverty and of raising another generation in poverty. They are also at risk of recidivism: 84% of offenders who were age 24 or younger at the time of release from state prisons were rearrested within five years of release.13


1. State of the City’s Housing & Neighborhoods,” Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, New York University, 2012, p.51, http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC2012_NewYorkCity.pdf
2. United States Census Bureau, NYC Community Data Portal, NYC Department of City Planning, 2008-2010, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/nhmap.shtml
3. NYC Department of Education, Preliminary New York City Graduation Rates Class of 2013 (2009 Cohort), http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/press-releases/2013/2013_Preliminary_Graduation_Rate_Release.pdf
4. State of the City’s Housing & Neighborhoods,” Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, New York University, 2012, p.51, http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC2012_NewYorkCity.pdf (The average unemployment rate for the 10 Community Districts served by the NYC Justice Corps was calculated based on data from this report.)
5. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/asthma/asthma-hospital.pdf, Asthma Hospitalization Data by NYC Neighborhood and Neighborhood Income; 2000-2008
6. Banks, David, and Ana Oliveira, Young Men’s Initiative: Report to The Mayor From the Chairs, NYC, 2011, p. 9, http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/2011/young_mens_initiative_report.pdf
7. The Economic Mobility Project, and the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility,” The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010, p.4, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/0001/01/01/collateral-costs
8. Shayne Spaulding, “Getting Connected: Strategies for Expanding the Employment Networks of Low Income People,” Public/Private Ventures, November 2005, p. 5. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/nhmap.shtml
9. Bruce  Western.  “The  Effects  of  Incarceration  on  Wages  and  Employment.”  Princeton  University,  Russell  Sage  Foundation, and National Science Foundation. 2004
10. Devah Pager and Bruce Western, “Investigating Prisoner Reentry: The Impact of Conviction Status on the Employment Prospects of Young Men”, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, October 2009, NCJ 228584. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/228584.pdf
11. Joan Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2003; Jeremy Travis. But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, Washington D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 2005.
12. The Economic Mobility Project, and the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility,” p.4 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/0001/01/01/collateral-costs
13. http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4986; “Within 5 years of release, 84.1% of inmates who were age 24 or younger at release were arrested, compared to 78.6% of inmates ages 25 to 39 and 69.2% of those age 40 or older.” Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010, Alexia D. Cooper, Ph.D., Matthew R. Durose, Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D. April 22, 2014, NCJ 244205