-Staff Writer-

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Edward Ford’s story is told countless times around the country with different faces and lives. Young boy grows up looking for role models to show him the way. What he finds is a path that calls a tune like the Pied Piper leading young adults to prison rather than economic mobility.

“I looked at the men in my community and saw the ones with jobs not making that much money and having to borrow from the ones on the corner that didn’t have jobs. But they had money all the time. I was ignorant and chose the wrong lifestyle,” he told The Final Call.

He spent nearly 20 years in prison for a range of crimes. While there he got his GED, an Associates Degree in Business Administration and completed 50 programs. He’s paid his debt to society, married his childhood sweetheart and is ready to contribute to his community.


“But I can’t find a job. I even completed Project Empowerment (DC employer incentive program) and have been to several sites but there are no jobs and I’m not getting much help,” he said.

Incarceration reduces former inmates’ earnings by 40 percent and limits their future economic mobility, according to a new Pew report, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility.

This is an increasing national concern considering the facts that 1 in every 28 children in America has a parent behind bars, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago and 2.3 million Americans are behind bars, equaling 1 in 100 adults. Up from 500,000 in 1980, this marks more than a 300 percent increase in the United States’ incarcerated population.

“People who break the law need to be held accountable and pay their debt to society,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “At the same time, the collateral costs of locking up 2.3 million people are piling higher and higher.”

“Corrections is the second fastest growing state budget category, and state leaders from both parties are now finding that there are research-based strategies for low-risk offenders that can reduce crime at far less cost than prison.”

Collateral Costs details the concentration of incarceration among men, the young, the uneducated and Blacks. One in 87 working-aged White men is in prison or jail compared with 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 Black men.

Unfortunately, more Black men aged 20 to 34 without a high school diploma or GED are behind bars (37 percent) than are employed (26 percent).

According to the report:

-Before being incarcerated, two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children. After release, former male inmates work nine fewer weeks annually and take home 40 percent less in annual earnings, making $23,500 instead of $39,100. That amounts to an expected earnings loss of nearly $179,000 through age 48 for men who have been incarcerated.

-Of former inmates who were in the bottom of the earnings distribution in 1986, two-thirds remained there in 2006, twice the number of non-incarcerated men.

“Pew’s past research shows a variety of factors influence economic mobility both within a person’s lifetime and across generations. This report finds that incarceration is a powerful determinant of mobility for both former inmates and their children,” said Scott Winship, research manager of the Economic Mobility Project of Pew’s Economic Policy Group.

The report also shows more than 2.7 million minor children now have a parent behind bars, or 1 in every 28. For Black children the number is 1 in 9, a rate that has more than quadrupled in the past 25 years.

According to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, improving employment prospects can decrease the chances that ex-offenders will return to prison or jail.

In previous reports, Pew identified policies that research shows can reduce recidivism and minimize the intergenerational impact of incarceration by boosting the chances that ex-offenders will successfully rejoin the community and the labor market.

Those solutions include:

Using swift and certain sanctions to deter probation and parole violations and reduce the cost of incarceration. For example, Hawaii’s successful HOPE probation program uses short but immediate jail stays to punish drug use and other probation violations, imposing them on weekends so working offenders don’t lose their jobs.

For Marcus Anderson, this information alone has been a deterrent.

“This is unbelievable. I knew jail was bad but it totally wrecks your life. People don’t know that it’s this bad. They think they can just do a bid and come back home and pick up where they left off. That’s not happening.”