Chapter 4: "The Cruel Hand" Summary

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Last Reviewed on March 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1260

Referencing the 1853 National Colored Convention in which notable freedmen including Frederick Douglas met to discuss abolition and freedmen’s rights, Alexander connects modern day criminals with the scorned, powerless slaves of the past—even suggesting that modern criminals receive less respect than black men who lived in the Jim Crow south.

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Alexander bemoans the fact that judges and attorneys are not required to inform defendants of the consequences of accepting plea deals. Many felons who plead guilty to avoid long prison sentences do not realize the rights they forfeit for life or the lifetime of discrimination a criminal record entails. Alexander reasons that many felons, once released from prison, buckle under the burdens of such discrimination, a factor that majorly contributes to high recidivism rates.

One form of discrimination many felons face is in public housing assistance. Upon release from prison, many individuals have difficulty finding a reliable place to stay for a variety of reasons, including sparse family support or lack of income. These individuals often discover, however, that their felon status prevents them from receiving any Section 8 housing assistance, eliminating another potential path to residency. In the late 1980s, a series of reforms were passed that established this exclusionary practice. Not only are felons excluded but also anyone whom a Housing and Urban Development Department worker suspects of criminality. The “no fault” clause attached to every HUD-issued lease also permits the eviction of tenants whose relatives or guests are arrested for any crime on or near public housing property. As a result, many public housing residents do not allow relatives recently released from prison to temporarily stay at their homes for fear that their guests’ felon label will result in sudden eviction. Together, these factors increase the likelihood that felons become homeless, itself a factor that puts felons at a higher risk of re-offending.

Convicted criminals also face discrimination when looking for work. Most parole districts require parolees to maintain employment, yet it is considered reasonable for many employers to deny jobs to those with a criminal record. Criminals need income to provide their basic needs, including housing, but many jobs available to them do not provide enough income to cover even a menial lifestyle. Adding to these barriers, many criminals have low education levels and little skills training, meaning few nearby industries are willing to hire them. While criminals can often find factory or construction work, many of these jobs are located beyond the urban vicinity in which most former felons live. This paucity of job opportunities, often further complicated by a lack of reliable transportation, makes it extremely difficult to secure stable employment.

Alexander notes that black men in particular suffer under discriminatory employment practices. Because black men are more likely to have arrest or conviction records, they are also more likely to be unemployed; one in three young black men are currently “out of work.”

Despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) publicizing the fact that it is illegal to flatly ban anyone with a criminal record from being considered for a job, many employers are still unwilling to amend their hiring practices. In some cities, like San Francisco, organizations have successfully lobbied to prevent such employment discrimination, yet it persists—even though employers can be prosecuted for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should they flout EEOC guidelines.

For those who do secure stable employment, they might still face financial obstacles associated with the debts they owe to the criminal justice system. Criminals are often...

(The entire section contains 1260 words.)

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