More than 700,000 Americans are released from prison each year. We expect them to re-enter society and be law-abiding, but we make it extremely difficult for anyone who has served time to ever become gainfully employed, even though they have paid their debt to society. A barrier that needs to be removed is that box on standard job applications that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?” If you check “yes,” you will likely never to hear from the potential employer again. It won’t matter how qualified or motivated you are. And with extremely limited legitimate earning options, the formerly incarcerated often re-offend and are re-incarcerated within a few years.

This destructive cycle not only devastates individuals, families and communities, it’s a recurring, ever-growing expense for taxpayers.

The cost of keeping and guarding inmates now averages $31,286 per inmate per year. Each inmate represents tax money that could otherwise be spent on programs to grow the economy, and each inmate is one less employee whose consumer spending would spur growth for all kinds of companies. The U.S. incarcerates more individuals than any other nation, and 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record — almost one in three Americans of working age. This revolving door system is unsustainable. One simple step can be a solution.