As high-school graduates with low-wage jobs, the Washington Post reports, Alisha Woods of West Haven, Ct., and her boyfriend are well-suited to benefit from President Bush’s $1.5 billion initiative to promote marriage among low-income couples. But Woods’s boyfriend is an ex-convict, and federal policies make marriage more difficult for ex-felons after their release from prison.
The boyfriend, 29, served 18 months in prison for narcotics possession; he did time on similar charges more than a decade ago. After being released in June 2002, the only job he could find was cleaning a barber shop co-owned by one of his cousins. For 30 hours a week of janitorial labor, he gets paid $140–less than minimum wage.
Because of his criminal record, he isn’t allowed to share Woods’s apartment. Woods gets a subsidy from the Section 8 federal housing program that pays about half her $762 rent each month. The local housing authority bars former drug felons from living with a Section 8 tenant. That’s because federal laws encourage public housing agencies to deny housing to anyone who has committed a violent crime, a drug offense, or any other crime that could affect the “health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises.”
In earlier eras, prisoners could apply for Pell Grants to take college courses to be more employable. But beginning in the 1980s, the federal government began to replace those benefits with a string of measures that make it harder for former inmates to be breadwinners.
Jeremy Travis of the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, calls the restrictions “invisible punishment.” One in five African American men have been in prison; regulations continue to punish ex-convicts long after they’ve served their time.