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Individuals who are arrested for crime and placed in jail have to cope with more than the justice system. If they are employed workers, they will be called to account for their absence from work and, as likely as not, may find their jobs in jeopardy. Indeed, a recent Department of Labor study suggests that loss of employment is one of the great hazards confronting the criminal accused who holds a job. Where employment is actually severed, the matter of return to the labor market is often aggravated beyond the disruption stemming from a normal layoff or termination. This is unfortunate because under our system of criminal justice, the arrested defendant remains a presumptively innocent citizen until convicted. Where the net effect of criminal allegations is to deprive the worker of his or her livelihood, the defendant suffers an economic penalty of great consequence before he or she has had his or her day in court.

In the early days following arrest and jail detention, precipitate discharges are not infrequent, whether justified or not, and severe breaches can arise between employer and employee. Since job retention is half the battle for the arrested employee who will in most cases return shortly to the labor market, whether acquitted or convicted, it is important that social policy avoid fostering breakdowns in communication that rupture job relationships when, with appropriate contact and counselling, such relationships can be preserved. This can often be done by professional and volunteer workers assigned to the task of seeing that employers are notified; giving appropriate explanations, and communicating the remorseful feelings of arrested defendants when they engage in the apparently senseless and defiant behavior of violating criminal laws. Our knowledge of the operation of pre-trial charging, arrest and detention procedures suggests that help of this kind might be enhanced by a grace period to bring employer and employee back together after the trauma of arrest and confinement. Yet, no system exists for insuring that the grace period will occur.


Daniel L. Skoler is Director of Public Service Activities, American Bar Association. J.D., Harvard Law School, 1952.

This article is based on a 1978 paper prepared for the Employment and Crime Project of the American University Institute of Advanced Studies in Justice. U.S. Department of Labor ORD Grant 21-11-77-16. The views expressed are those of the author and not the Department of Labor or the United States government.

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