Number of Americans With Felony Records Rises Sharply

The accumulation of criminal charges over several decades means that 10-15 percent of the population in five states have felony records. This makes it harder for them to find jobs and housing and is prompting some states to reclassify crimes.

Every state has seen a dramatic increase in recent years in the share of its population convicted of a felony. That leaves more people facing hurdles in finding jobs and housing, and is prompting some states to revisit how they classify crimes, Stateline reports. In Georgia, 15 percent of the adult population was a felon in 2010, up from 4 percent in 1980. The rate was above 10 percent in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas. The data come from a University of Georgia study published in October. The estimates go through 2010, before many states began to reclassify some crimes and take other steps to lower incarceration rates and ease ex-offenders back into society. They are the first attempt to gauge the state-by-state buildup of felons during a nationwide, decades-long surge in punishment: Fewer than 2 million people were in prison or jail or on parole or probation in 1980, compared with more than 7 million in 2007.

Fordham University law Prof. John Pfaff called the study “incredibly important.” He noted that Georgia has been trying to get people out of prison with more use of probation, “but we’re seeing that even with probation they’re still getting that record.” Reform proponents focus on imprisonment, but probation is more common. There were 1.9 million people on felony probation in 2015, compared with 1.5 million in prison. In some states, probation has become a “net widener” that draws more nonviolent criminals into the stigma and harsh supervision of a felony conviction. Gary Mohr, who heads Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said that with any felony conviction, “even probation or a six-month sentence is really a life sentence because it affects jobs, it affects housing, it affects everything in their lives.” Several states have moved to ease the path for convicted felons, including restoring voting rights and barring employers from asking job applicants if they have criminal records.