Between 2010 and 2015, more than 16,000 people were charged with a crime in Cumberland County, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

This includes the equivalent of 36 percent of the county’s black population and roughly 6 percent of the county’s white population, according to court records.

While not all of those cases resulted in a prison sentence, most of the convictions will remain on the defendant’s record and follow them throughout their lives, regardless of future criminal involvement.

For many, criminal conviction can mean lower earning potential, more difficulty entering the workforce and can even mean the person is entirely shut out of some professions.

With more than 10 million working-age adults with a prison record or felony conviction in the United States, the sum total of these individual problems with employment can act to actually depress the economy.

“From a labor perspective, you have some sector of the labor force that is just incapable of being employed,” said Benjamin Levin, associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School. “Those are economic effects that transcend the individual.”

The U.S. economy lost roughly $60 billion in economic output in 2008 because of the sheer volume of people with criminal records, according to a study conducted by economist John Schmitt and Kris Warner for the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The two men found between 1.5 million and 1.7 million people were excluded from the labor force because of their criminal history, increasing the unemployment rate by nearly one percentage point.

“The rise in the ex-offender population, and the resulting employment and output losses, overwhelmingly reflects changes in the U.S. criminal justice system, not changes in underlying criminal activity,” the study states. “Instead, dramatic increases in sentencing, especially for drug-related offenses, account for the mushrooming of the ex-offender population that we document here.”

The rates

Incarceration rates in the United States began to climb in the 1970s along with crime rates.

However, incarceration rates continued to climb even as violent crimes plunged during the last 20 years.

There were roughly 200,000 people incarcerated in the United States in 1970, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In 2014, there were more than 2.2 million people locked up in state, federal or local facilities, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

This is despite violent crime rates being roughly equivalent to 1970 levels, according to the FBI.

“The world is just different after a conviction and after they get out of prison,” Levin said. “That’s not just because people are more likely to have a range of psychological issues, they’re likely to have lost friends and family members, but also, because the law paints with a very broad brush, and that’s a brush that tends to really harm many, many people.”

On the individual level, the effects of a conviction or incarceration can be great.

“There’s sort of this vast legal web that just makes it very difficult for people to gain employment,” Levin said.

The American Bar Association has compiled a database of collateral consequences or negative things that happen as a result of a conviction but not directly part of a person’s sentence.

In Pennsylvania, there are more than 560 employment or professional licensure-related collateral consequences of a conviction, according to the American Bar Association.

Consequences

These can range from disbarmentor revocation of a professional license to things like prohibiting a person with a conviction or civil judgement “demonstrating a lack of business integrity” from owning, operating or managing a WIC authorized retailer such as a grocery store.

More than 100 of those consequences only require a misdemeanor conviction, according to the ABA.

“The staggering thing ... if you yourself do not have a criminal conviction, or someone close to you has a criminal conviction, it’s hard to grasp how vast that web is, how many statutes there are and just how many jobs are just off the table,” Levin said. “The idea that there is just this huge swath of jobs that is just gone should be very concerning.”

The United State ranks first in the rate of incarceration at roughly 670 inmates per 100,000 people, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

The U.S. outranks countries like Russia and Rwandan with roughly 430 inmates per 100,000 people each, Iran with 287 inmates per 100,000 people and Mexico with 192 inmates per 100,000 people, according to the ICPS.

Roughly 500,000 more people are incarcerated in the United States than in China, but China has an overall population more than four times that of the United States, according to ICPS data.

“Prisons largely house poor people and they largely house people who are not going in highly skilled or highly trained. It’s one of the ways the criminal justice system and the economy are so closely linked,” Levin said. “When we are dealing with situations where people don’t have other economic options and don’t have other ways to make a living, those are often the people who are winding up in prison or committing crimes.”

Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.

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