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