Just the Facts

Five Facts: Life After Prison in America

By No Labels
May 24, 2018 | Blog

Congress is pushing ahead on prison reform for the first time in years, and there are good reasons why. More than two million Americans are currently incarcerated, and millions more live on probation, parole or simply have to negotiate life with a prison record.

The House passed the First Step Act this week, a bill designed to help federal prisoners re-assimilate and find work after release, reducing repeat offenses. The legislation aims to increase successful integration after prison, creating programs to address job training, education, substance abuse treatment and more.

Yet the bill’s future is uncertain in the Senate. As lawmakers and the Trump administration negotiate, here’s what you need to know about life after prison in America.


The number of Americans under correctional supervision has tripled in the last three decades

The United States has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. The number of Americans in federal state and locals prisons, and on parole or probation, was about 1.8 million in 1980, according to a Brookings Institution study in 2016. That grew to about 6.85 million in 2014, according to the study.


Only half of those leaving prison report any earnings in the first year 

In the first year after their release, only 55 percent of inmates report any income at all, according to a new Brookings Institution study released this year. Among those who could find work, only one in five were able to earn more than $15,000.


Many of those who can find work live below the poverty level 

The median income for those released from prison was about $10,100, according to the Brookings study. That’s lower than the poverty level, which the federal government set at about $12,100 for a single person in 2018. Many who are released make far less than that.


Former convicts do not see their incomes grow over time like other Americans

It may seem axiomatic that Americans who were incarcerated make less money than those who were never jailed. But studies show the discrepancy actually grows over time. At age 20, the annual income difference between an employee with a prison record and one without is about $4,000. At age 45, the difference grows to more than 10 times that, or about $41,000.


Study shows eight out of 10 prisoners are arrested again within 9 years of release

Recidivism, the term used for convicts who leave prison only to commit more crime, is high in the United States. An ongoing study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which was updated this year, showed that 8 out of 10 state prisoners (83 percent) were re-arrested within 9 years after their release.

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