Formerly incarcerated Mississippians who are entering the workforce continue to face obstacles to employment, advocates testified Tuesday at the Mississippi Capitol during a Senate Labor Committee hearing.
The hearing included a discussion of "Ban the Box," also called "Fair Chance Hiring," which prevents employers from requiring formerly incarcerated people to disclose felony convictions on job applications, and which Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, the chairman of the committee, supports.
Other suggested solutions included allowing people with convictions to obtain occupational licenses and eliminating the waiting period before Mississippians can apply for expungement of criminal records.
Jackie Turner, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, revealed to the committee that the State of Mississippi's current seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 4.7%—the lowest it has ever been. Despite the state's decreasing unemployment rate, though, Mississippi continues to experience a labor shortage.
James Robertson, the director of employability and criminal-justice reform for Empower Mississippi, attributed the state's struggling labor pool in part to Mississippi's incarceration rate, currently the third highest in the country. "Because of that, we have about 5,000 or 7,000 leaving our state correctional facilities every single year, with a felony conviction, coming back into our communities and being unable to find work," he said at the Jan. 11 hearing.
Robertson pointed out that while Mississippi's overall unemployment rate is low, unemployment rates for formerly incarcerated Mississippians is about five times higher, at 27%. Approximately 100,000 Mississippians currently have criminal records, he added. The state also has the lowest employment rate in the country for people between the ages of 25 to 54, which are considered prime ages for employment.
Federal law does not prevent employers from inquiring about an applicant's criminal history. Having to disclose a felony conviction on a job application not only can lead to discrimination, advocates say, but can also discourage those