Public Scholarship

Rural white-majority geographies have a criminal justice problem, too

The nation just concluded observing Second Chance Month to raise awareness of the consequences of criminal convictions. One of the most significant ramifications of their criminal records is their inability to obtain employment.

According to research from the Society for Human Research Management, 9 out of every 10 employers use background checks. Upon discovering prospective employees’ prior incarceration histories, many of them automatically decline their applications, even when they served for a minor, nonviolent offense. As a result, the unemployment rate for nonviolent offenders, currently at approximately 38-percent, is far higher than that of the general populace.

This problem is far from a small one; it affects millions of Americans every year. Over 70 million Americans have a criminal record, 9 million have received a felony conviction and 113 million have an immediate family member who has spent time in jail or prison.

While the world has known of this issue’s scope for decades, the demographics behind who it affects have remained largely a mystery. Historically, low-income urban communities have received most of the attention on issues relating to incarceration and unemployment, and few if any have inspected whether low-income rural communities experience the same negative correlative effects. As our contribution to Second Chance Month, we pooled together the collective insights and resources of Texas Southern University — a historically Black university — and Utah State University — which primarily serves a white, rural student body — to produce a study that answers this question.

Click HERE to read the full article in The Hill.