Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Examining Disparate Impact Discrimination on Ex-Offenders of Color across Voting, Government Policy and Aid Receipt, Employment, and Housing

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Examining Disparate Impact Discrimination on Ex-Offenders of Color across Voting, Government Policy and Aid Receipt, Employment, and Housing

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Ex-offenders of color face disparate impact discrimination as a societal consequence of inadequate policy, private market attitudes, and post-incarceration punishment. A tactful balancing act is required of policy makers, government, and private entities as they make decisions on factors affecting the reintegration of exoffenders. On the one hand, these decisions must be protective of current systems, institutions, practices, and businesses. On the other, they must also be cognizant of discrimination that may occur as a result of practices that limit the opportunities of individuals who have paid their debt to society. In this, race is an inescap- able variable. People of color are disproportionately represented in prisons and as ex-offenders, therefore the consequences of all actions taken threaten their status as a protected class under civil rights laws and can lead to disparate impact discrimination. Once society understands how certain factors and actions can lead to discriminatory practices against ex-offenders, then effective polices and measures can be employed to combat such discrimination.

Disparate impact discrimination disproportionately affects ex-offenders of color, even though race, ethnicity, and color are typically protected class categories under the law. Considering this idea of disparate impact discrimination against this group is extremely important because such discrimination further disenfranchises groups that have been marginalized in society throughout history. Such discrimination grants disenfranchisement across voting, government policy and aid receipt, employment, and housing. If an ex-offender is shunned from these areas, the impact is felt across families, neighborhoods, and communities. Unfortunately, capturing the totality of individuals impacted is difficult because the attitude of those governing each respective institution toward ex-offenders varies greatly Regarding being denied receipt of government aid, substantial research has not been conducted on how ex-offenders, whether of color or not, are affected. Even so, data can be pieced together to display a broad view of disparate impact discrimination. For example, there are studies that have shown the effects of being denied employment as a person of color and how this can be exacerbated if coupled with a criminal record.

Before examining solutions to discriminatory practices, this article defines the disparate impact theory as well as the practices as they relate to policies affecting ex-offenders of color. Using disparate impact theory, this article then addresses discriminatory policies affecting ex-offenders across voting, government policy and aid receipt, employment, and housing. Next, challenges and obstacles to addressing such policies are explored, including their social and political shortcomings. Finally, alternative solutions, policies, and consistent standards are presented to address discriminatory practices. This article examines these issues through race, gender, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and environmental setting as a platform to dismantle the civil rights, participation, and engagement of ex-offenders of color. The article shows that policy makers, government, and private entities can successfully conduct a balancing act and be fair to ex-offenders who are trying to reintegrate into society.

DISPARATE IMPACT DISCRIMINATION

Disparate impact theory describes situations in which a policy is created that appears neutral on its face but that ultimately impacts a particular group more than others (Community Legal Services 2009). Thus, disparate impact discrimination occurs when policies are created that appear neutral but that negatively impact protected citizens more than the general population. For example, if a bakery implements a policy to prohibit the hiring of applicants with beards, some men of African descent with folliculitis (a condition prevalent in men of African descent in which shaving causes skin and hair follicle inflammation) are automatically excluded; the policy is discriminatory in nature by its disparate impact on men of African descent relative to men of other descent who are less likely to have the condition. …

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