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Starting Fresh: Life After Treatment as an Ex-Offender

Life after treatment is an opportunity for a fresh new start. It’s a time to focus on rebuilding relationships, maintaining your health, and bettering yourself as a person. That is, of course, if you have the luxury of no responsibility, which isn’t the case when you’re a recovering addict with a history of felonies and arrests on your back.

For many recovering addicts, life after treatment may still require dealing with repercussions of the past and learning how to survive in a world that still believes they’re dirty even after they get clean.

And so, for National Recovery Month, Drug Treatment Center Finder presents its latest project, Starting Fresh, a four-part series on the real-world struggles recovering individuals face the moment they step out of treatment. From piecing broken family bonds back together to fighting custody battles over their children, Starting Fresh will cover the major stigmas that occur in life after treatment while also providing resources to help readers in need.

In today’s segment, we’ll be covering one of the first major obstacles: finding a job.

And more importantly, finding a job as an ex-convict.

Recovering Addicts Face High Unemployment Rates and Gov. Bans

unemployed interviewees

In treatment, they tell clients to avoid major life changes to avoid stress that could trigger a person into relapsing.

While that may be the ideal thing to do, for recovering individuals who are still facing court fees, bills and debt, and broken family bonds—thus having no one to turn to while they get back on their feet—just getting out of prison or treatment, or both, is a major life change in itself.

In the United States, between 70 million and 100 million adults—or 1 in 3 Americans—in our country have felony records, many of which are due to drug-related crimes.

Adding to the millions are about 700,000 people being released from behind bars every year, but the same numbers aren’t going back into the working force in the nation. More than 60 percent of “formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed one year after being released,” says The Sentencing Project.

Stigma in life after treatment for ex-offenders affects genders differently, as well. According to a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, of unemployed men between the ages of 25 and 54, about 34 percent consist of men with criminal records. Women are hired slightly more often, but they aren’t necessarily getting the kind of jobs to support their families by themselves. Mothers with felony drug convictions are subjected to a lifetime ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, affecting 180,000 women in the country.

Ex-Offenders Still Suffer from Prejudice in Life After Treatment

ex-offender life after treatmentEmployers still hold a prejudice against ex-offenders, whether they admit it or not. High unemployment rates among recovering addicts with drug-related offenses stained on their backs are not a coincidence.

Perhaps it’s long past the days of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, but rest assured, many people can feel the bright red “C” on their chest, bearing the label of criminal in employers’ eyes.

But this goes beyond suspicion—it’s a proven fact. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, only 12.5 percent of employers said they’d accept an application from someone with a criminal record, proving that the prejudice is alive and well.

Though employers can’t legally ask about your criminal history in an interview—all of that information must be brought up voluntarily by the potential employee—most states do allow employers to ask if you have a criminal record. Data show roughly 9 in 10 employers in the US check criminal record databases before hiring for certain positions, while others homed in on felony convictions and misdemeanors or arrests. Whether they follow policy procedure and allow interviewees to explain their past is hard to measure.

This makes some recovering individuals to question if they should admit having a criminal record on job application forms. Lying about one’s criminal history is an illegal offense and can subject the employee to an immediate job termination should their employer find out, but some recovering individuals see no other options. Staying unemployed can trigger a drug and/or alcohol relapse to cope with societal struggles, or motivate recovering individuals to return to a life of crime to make ends meet.

Others note that background checks don’t reflect recovering addicts’ current intentions: to work hard for a better life. And they’re right more than they know.

Background Checks May Be Inaccurate, GAO Review Admits

criminal background checkWhat is alarming, however, is that some people’s criminal record may be outdated or inaccurate. A New York Timesarticle details a stint in 2008, when the government began checking criminal backgrounds of 1.2 million workers on national ports.

By the rule of a law that was passed post-9/11, anyone with a conviction within the past seven years was to be excluded from hiring lists for ports, affecting 59,000 workers.

Yet, when 30,000 of those workers appealed because their records were inaccurate, it was found that “in 25,000 of those cases, a more careful examination found no evidence of a conviction, according to a subsequent review by the Government Accountability Office.”

And even by February 2015, when the NYT article was written, background check systems were still incorrect 42 percent of the time when identifying a felon.

The inaccuracies occur even to people without a history of offenses, but can also affect people in recovery, whose criminal records are outdated and affecting their potential to getting higher paying jobs.

If you believe your background report file may be inaccurate, you can order a criminal background on yourself through your local sheriff’s office. Should you need to dispute your record, HireRight provides the right information and resources to go about the legal process.

‘Ban the Box’ Making Revolutionary Change in Stigma

criminal revolutionIn 2004, a legal campaign to “ban the box” that asks for criminal records on job applications was launched to change this policy.

A slow climb in the beginning years, only five states had passed law changes according to the policy in 2010. With help from social media, however, a total of 24 states joined the “Ban the Box” campaign by 2016. More than 100 cities and counties have adopted the policy change, advocating for employers to measure a potential employee’s qualifications over their criminal past.

“Ban the Box is a campaign that’s trying to reduce discrimination based on someone’s past convictions,” said Manual LaFontaine, member of ex-offender advocacy group All of Us or None, which served as the catalyst to the Ban the Box campaign. “We recognize a background check may not be necessary for a job decision. We say that because most jobs do not involve unsupervised access to sensitive populations or handling sensitive information like a person’s bank account.”

If you’d like to see if your state has joined the Ban the Box campaign or to petition for it to join, the National Employment Law Project provides “The Fair Chance/Ban the Box Toolkit,” which you can access here.

Life after treatment can prove to have many hardships for recovering individuals with criminal records, but more often than not, they’re the ones wanting to work harder at changing their lives for the better than most employees.

“Those are the ones that seem to work and stay working,” said Melinda Ricketts, founder of A Cut Above the Rest Lawn Service and Landscaping, to WBHM. An ex-offender in recovery herself, Ricketts built her own lawn service company and strives to give recovering individuals another chance, like she had.

“It’s because they have a mark against them,” she said. “So they have something to prove.”

Need Help Finding a Job?

looking for a jobAt Drug Treatment Center Finder, we understand how difficult it may be searching for and obtaining employment for people with a history of substance abuse and felonies. Life after treatment definitely has its challenges. In a society prejudiced against people with a troubled past, recovering individuals fresh out of treatment and/or prison may feel discouraged and abandoned by the stigmas they face.

Don’t feel alone. There are resources out there to help you.

Take advantage of some of these tools:

Before anything, read the “Know Your Rights” information packet, brought to you by SAMHSA and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Make sure your background check is accurate at your local sheriff’s office, and if needed, go to HireRight, where you can access tools to dispute your record.

National H.I.R.E. Network – Created by the Legal Action Center, the National H.I.R.E. Network aims to “Help Individuals with criminal records Reenter through Employment.” They provide job opportunities to people with criminal records and aim to change public policies and social stigma toward ex-offenders.

America in Recovery –America in Recovery was created to encourage other companies to post job postings, free of judgment toward ex-offenders and recovering individuals. Founded by Venturetech owner, Larry Keast, the nonprofit organization hopes to steer people in the right direction.

CareerOneStop – CareerOneStop helps job seekers find their local American Job Center (AJCs), which will provide applicants resources on how to search for jobs, find training, and other employment concerns.

Keep Up with the Starting Fresh Series!

This marks the first segment of our four-part series, Starting Fresh, where important aspects about life after treatment will be discussed. From child custody battles to making amends with loved ones, Starting Fresh is a series brought to you by Drug Treatment Center Finder as part of National Recovery Month and to help readers find their path in recovery.

Read Part 2, “Starting Fresh: Fighting for Child Custody after Rehab,” and learn about how recovering addicts go through the legal process of gaining custody of their children back. We’ll post the link here when it’s up!

At Drug Treatment Center Finder, we believe everyone deserves a second chance at building their life for a better future. That’s why we aim to provide resources at finding the right drug treatment center in all 50 states of the US. DTCF is available 24-7 for those in need of a new beginning in their lives. To get more information, call one of our agents at 855-619-8070 today and receive a consultation on addiction recovery methods.