More Than 25 Percent of Formerly Incarcerated People Are Unemployed

by Vins
Published: Updated:

A 2018 report shows that people released from prison are being disproportionally discriminated against in the pursuit of work. The study—by Lucius Couloute, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Massachusetts, and Daniel Kopf, a reporter for Quartz—found that an average of 27 percent of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed. That figure, Couloute and Kopf wrote, is greater than “the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.”

Their report goes on to show that black people, Hispanics, and women face the most significant disadvantages in the search for work after leaving prison. 39% of Hispanic women, 26% of Hispanic men, 40% of black women, 34% of black women, 23% of white women, and 18% of white men face unemployment after being released from prison. (The national average rate of unemployment is approximately four percent, for comparison.) The numbers for some five million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States show how patterns of mass incarceration further penalize groups that have been historically marginalized in the job market.

Couloute and Kopf’s data also concludes that formerly incarcerated people are more likely to be actively looking for work than the general population. Their analysis shows  93% of formerly incarcerated people are either employed or actively looking for work, compared to 83% of the general population. They explain the figures by saying that “though unemployment among formerly incarcerated people is five times higher than the general public, these results show that formerly incarcerated people want to work.”

Attaining a job is a critical aspect of reducing rates of recidivism. Securing work not only allows formerly incarcerated people to provide for themselves, it also allows them to integrate back into society. High unemployment among formerly incarcerated people is a social justice issue: People who have gone through the justice system continue to be punished after serving their sentences. Despite the scope of this issue, corporate media have not covered the report’s findings as of November 28, 2018.


Alfonso Serrano, “Out of Prison, Out of Jobs: Unemployment and the Formerly Incarcerated,” ColorLines, July 10, 2018,

Lucius Couloute and Dan Kopf, “Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among Previously Incarcerated People,” Prison Policy Initiative, July 2018,

“New Report Calculates the First Unemployment Rate for Formerly Incarcerated People,” San Francisco Bay View, September 29, 2019,

Student Researcher: Briana Earls (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Mutombo M’Panya (Sonoma State University)