For vast numbers of Americans who have been convicted of a felony, the punishment has no end point.
This essay in the New York Times by Carnegie Mellon professor, Alfred Blumstein, and University of Maryland criminologist, Kiminori Nakamura, gets to the heart of this issue that we as a nation can simply no longer afford to ignore.
Here’s a clip from their story:
IN 2010, the Chicago Public Schools declined to hire Darrell Langdon for a job as a boiler-room engineer, because he had been convicted of possessing a half-gram of cocaine in 1985, a felony for which he received probation. It didn’t matter that Mr. Langdon, a single parent of two sons, had been clean since 1988 and hadn’t run into further trouble with the law. Only after The Chicago Tribune wrote about his case did the school system reverse its decision and offer him the job.
A stunning number of young people are arrested for crimes in this country, and those crimes can haunt them for the rest of their lives. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Crime Commission found that about half of American males could expect to be arrested for a nontraffic offense some time in their lives, mostly in their late teens and early 20s. An article just published in the journal Pediatrics shows how the arrest rate has grown — by age 23, 30 percent of Americans have been arrested, compared with 22 percent in 1967. The increase reflects in part the considerable growth in arrests for drug offenses and domestic violence.
The impact of these arrests is felt for years. The ubiquity of criminal-background checks and the efficiency of information technology in maintaining those records and making them widely available, have meant that millions of Americans — even those who served probation or parole but were never incarcerated — continue to pay a price long after the crime. In November the American Bar Association released a database identifying more than 38,000 punitive provisions that apply to people convicted of crimes, pertaining to everything from public housing to welfare assistance to occupational licenses. More than two-thirds of the states allow hiring and professional-licensing decisions to be made on the basis of an arrest alone.
Employers understandably want to protect their employees and customers from risk. Yet at the same time, there is a growing public interest in facilitating job opportunities for those who have stayed crime-free for a reasonable period of time. The weak economy and a rethinking of the logic of mass incarceration — driven in large part by budget pressures — have also brought attention to the situations of ex-offenders like Mr. Langdon, who face the collateral consequences of conviction long after their involvement with the criminal justice system has ended. Federal authorities are beginning to pay attention. Last April, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urged state attorneys general to review laws and policies “to determine whether those that impose burdens on individuals convicted of crimes without increasing public safety should be eliminated.”
Read the rest. to find out what Blumstein and Nakamura suggest as solutions.
PS: A former California prison warden friend of mine who originally drew my attention to this story, pointed out that the one aspect of this issue that the authors don’t mention is voting rights. “The United States is the only country that permits permanent disenfranchisement of felons even after completion of their sentences,” he wrote in an email.
This causes around two million Americans to be forever disenfranchised. However, each state has different rules. In California, thankfully, while voting rights are not restored upon release from prison, once someone is off parole or probation, they may register to vote again.