The future sustainability and vibrancy of the U.S. economy is contingent on full workforce participation. This begins with cultivating the gifts and talents of each individual. It is further manifested through the unveiling of the limitless potential of innovation. The culmination of these elements is the very essence of the “American Dream”—the power to work, build, and create a brighter future. Unfortunately, the realization of this dream has become unobtainable for many who have a criminal record. It can serve as a relentless and persistent impediment to employability, which negatively impacts an individual’s ability to contribute to the future of economic development. A criminal record can restrict one’s access to employment, higher education, and even professional licensure. An estimated 70 million Americans, one in three adults, have a criminal record that poses an active barrier to economic and social mobility. Acclaimed attorney and author Michelle Alexander describes this experience as entering a parallel universe, “one that promises a form of punishment that is often more difficult to bear than prison time: a lifetime of shame, contempt, scorn, and exclusion” (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New Press, 2010). This parallel universe creates a tangled web of incarceration with far too many entry points into the criminal justice system and far fewer exit points.
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