Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration

September 27, 2007
By

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The Boston Globe‘s Christopher Shea wrote an interesting piece for last Sunday’s paper on America’s growing prison system and its formative impact on American society. In his article, Shea details the revealing social experiment in Devah Pager’s new book, Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration, to show how the American penal system has become an “engine of inequality … actively [widening] the gap between the poor—especially poor black men—and everyone else.” Shea continues:

In an ideal penal system, prisoners might exit the system having paid their debt to society and be more or less restored to their previous status as free men and women. But Pager’s book demonstrates just how detached from reality that view is. She had four college students, two black and two white, pose as applicants for low-level jobs in Milwaukee.…
They used résumés that were nearly identical—high school degrees, steady progress from entry-level work to a supervisory position—except that in some cases the applicant had a drug conviction in his past… for which he served an 18-month sentence and then behaved perfectly on parole.…
In her field study, Pager found that her black applicants with criminal records got called for an interview—or to interview on the spot, as they applied in person—a mere 5 percent of the time. That compared with 14 percent for the black applicants without a criminal record. Meanwhile, the white applicants with a record were called back 17 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent for the white men lacking the blotch on their résumé. “Two strikes”—blackness and a record—”and you’re out” is how Pager summarizes her findings.

Read the rest of the article on the Boston Globe website.
Read an excerpt from Pager’s book.

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