High recidivism, or the rate at which ex-offenders return to prison, is a problem in Missouri and a major factor contributing to our high incarceration rate. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, nearly half of ex-offenders in Missouri return to prison within five years of being released.
Whether it is for a technical violation of the terms of their parole or because they committed a new offense, having so many people return to prison is expensive. The average cost to incarcerate just one person for one year is $21,000. Multiply that by thousands of people serving years-long sentences and the cost of recidivism for Missouri taxpayers is in the millions.
While there are several important factors that may contribute to recidivism rates, research has found that finding employment upon release strongly affects whether someone will end up back in prison. This study from the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments explains why employment for ex-offenders is important:
Employment can make a strong contribution to recidivism-reduction efforts because it refocuses individuals’ time and efforts on prosocial activities, making them less likely to engage in riskier behaviors and to associate with people who do…Employment also has important societal benefits, including reduced strain on social service resources, contributions to the tax base, and safer, more stable communities.
Last year, Show-Me Institute’s Patrick Tuohey testified on a bill that would have removed the restriction on anyone convicted of a felony from obtaining a license to sell lottery tickets—a law which essentially prohibited them from working at convenience stores or gas stations. While this bill wasn’t adopted, other states have taken an approach that Missouri should consider.
Instead of considering different licensed occupations piecemeal, Fresh Start Legislation adopted in other states requires a comprehensive review of licensing boards’ restrictions on ex-offenders. Such a review can help ex-offenders by removing unnecessary barriers to employment. Part two of this blog post will dig more into what a Fresh Start law would look like and how it could help Missouri reduce its recidivism rates.