It’s bad enough that youth unemployment for Americans is nearly double that of the general population — but if you’re a young person of color, your prospects of finding a job are even worse. The rate for African American teens (ages 16-19) is 30 percent, about double the rate of white teens.
In New York City, where I live, young black and Latino males are 10-and-4 times more likely than their white peers to have a felony and 14-and-5 times more likely to return to jail within a year of their release. What's worse, New York is just one of two states (North Carolina being the other) that automatically treats late teens as adults, regardless of their crimes.
There are some extraordinary consequences to this practice. Firstly, a majority of employers — 92 percent — run criminal background checks. This means that a run-in with the law will likely lead to a ‘life-sentencing’ of employment challenges. According to research, a felony conviction factors into the hiring process (ranging from 74-to-96 percent) as does a misdemeanor (ranging from 26 percent to 50 percent, depending on the severity). Unfortunately, only about half of employers reported that they take into account the age of the offense when hiring. One study estimates that former felons are now categorically barred from working in more than 800 occupations because of laws and licensing rules.
Secondly, while there is overwhelming evidence that incarceration actually INCREASES the chances that a young person will commit another crime, some states still impose harsh and long-term prison sentencing -- which means there are still youth serving 25-to-40 years before they have a chance at parole.
Lastly, even though research shows than an overwhelming majority of youth who enter the adult court are not there for serious, violent crimes, not all states empower judges with more discretion to consider whether a youth's case should be considered in adult criminal court.
Both in raw numbers and by percentage of the population, the United States has the most prisoners of any developed country in the world — and it has the largest total prison population of any nation. In order for the juvenile justice landscape not to be such a slippery slope, a system needs to be put in place to ensure that youth offenders have the opportunity to succeed and not fail due to their inability to find work and empower themselves civically.