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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Race, Crime, and Jobs

I've been reading Devah Pager's fascinating new book Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago Press 2007). Pager, a Princeton sociologist, conducted an experiment here in Milwaukee in an attempt to quantify the effects of race and criminal history on the evaluation of job applications. Here is her description of the study:

[The experiment involved] sending matched pairs of individuals (called testers) to apply for real job openings in order to see whether employers respond differently to applicants on the basis of selected characteristics. The current study included four male testers, two blacks and two whites, matched into two teams--the two black testers formed one team, and the two white testers formed the second team. The testers were college students from Milwaukee who were matched on the basis of age, race, physical appearance, and general style of self-presentation. The testers were assigned fictitious resumes that reflected equivalent levels of education and work experience. In addition, within each team, one auditor was randomly assigned a criminal record for the first week; the pair then rotated which member presented himself as an ex-offender for each successive week of employment searches . . . .

For the white testers, Pager found that a criminal record reduced the likelihood of a callback by 50 percent. For the black testers, a criminal record reduced the chances of a callback by 60 percent. "A criminal record," she notes, "can thus confirm negative stereotypes against blacks"--a finding that is especially troubling in light of the documented racial disparities affecting so many other aspects of the criminal justice system. "[T]he findings of this study suggest that black offenders may be doubly disadvantaged: not only are blacks more likely to be incarcerated than whites; according to the findings presented here, they may also be more strongly affected by the stigma of a criminal record."

Pager's book strikes me as a helpful addition to the burgeoning literature on prisoner reentry and another reason to welcome legislation like the Second Chance Act (H.R. 1593), which was passed by the House of Representatives last month. The SCA would authorize about $340 million in spending on reentry-related initiatives, most notably in the form of grants for state and local efforts that incorporate not only law enforcement and corrections agencies, but also diverse public and private social services agencies. Returning prisoners face tremendous challenges in obtaining employment, housing, education, medical care, and substance abuse treatment. Successful reintegration into the community seems unlikely for many former prisoners without more extensive planning and support than is typically supplied today. And, as Pager's research suggests, the needs may be especially pressing for minority offenders.

Posted by Michael O'Hear on December 9, 2007 at 11:09 AM in Books | Permalink


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» Being Black Makes It Worse from The Debate Link
Michael O'Hear remarks on the findings of a book examining how convicted criminals re-enter American society. One of the more "provocative" findings is that -- all else being equal, including resumes, type of crime, demeanor, and background -- Black ... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 10, 2007 11:12:23 PM


They should give the reentry grants to the employers. That would be much more effective, though very unpopular for the same reason, I imagine. The bureaucratic waste that would accompany a program to assist the former prisoners directly would be enormous.

Posted by: anon | Dec 11, 2007 8:13:36 PM

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