Life After a Felony

employees only.jpgWherever a group of people gather, judgment follows. The people within the group are sizing each other up. And, they're passing judgment on those outside the group. But let's face it; no judgment is harsher than against those who have a felony conviction (especially a sex offense). Being a convicted felon effects not just where you can work, but also where you are permitted to live. Without work, it's hard to live (duh). We the people must balance our freedom of information about someone's criminal history, with our desire to permit all of our citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. How do we do it?

One simple way to get started is sealing or expunging a criminal record. Sealing and expunging is not THE answer, but it is a great start. It's mandatory. For those of you with a criminal history, there are several government entities which have the garden hose of information fully blasting your negative criminal history information out into the digital world. Those faucets pouring out your information are located in three places, typically. First and foremost, the clerk of court. Most clerks of court have internet websites which make your criminal history available to anyone, anywhere, 24/7. If we seal or expunge your case, this faucet will get turned off. No one will be able to access that criminal history from the clerk anymore. But there are other government sources remaining. Tallahassee keeps diligent arrest records, but those faucets can be shut off by sealing or expunging because once a judge grants a Petition to Expunge, the local law enforcement agency that made the arrest must seal up access to those records.

So, I always recommend a citizen seal or expunge a criminal history. This is a no brainer. But the problem is, background checks can still expose an arrest record, even though it's been sealed or expunged. And just as important as sealing a case is having internet sources shut off as well, and companies that are in the web reputation business can help with such matters. But sealing and expunging is a privilege for those not convicted of a crime. What about convicted felons? For convicted felons, they have paid their debt to society, yet the payments continue long past the prison time, probation time, classes, counseling, community service, fines, fees, court costs, and restitution. So, what can we do to help felons gain employment?

One way to help involves legislation which prohibits employers from asking criminal history questions during the first rounds of the hiring process. Massachusetts passed such legislation, which came to be known as the "ban the box" law, prohibiting questions which ask applicants to check "yes" or "no" boxes in response to questions regarding their criminal histories. Employers can, however, ask such questions at later stages of the hiring process. Theoretically, a "ban the box" law puts citizens with criminal histories on an equal footing with other candidates so that such applicants will now have a chance to explain their criminal histories during an interview, rather than never getting the chance to even speak with the employer. These laws are a win/win scenario. First off, the laws make it possible for more former criminals to be employed. But most importantly, employment always reduces crime recidivism. Always. Of course, another way to approach this is to have prisoners prepared for their release back into the work force.

Our biggest problem is our ever growing government. The more government you have, the greater the chances are that our young people will get entangled in the government's cycle of dependency. For example, take something as seemingly innocent as "zero tolerance" at schools. In reality, zero tolerance simply shoves our kids into the criminal justice system at an early age--graduating from school with misdemeanors and felonies. When I was in school back in the day, a fight at school would land you in the principal's office. Back then, a fight at school would lead to a suspension. Now, our children are being arrested and given criminal records. For our Big Government to get bigger, they need younger recruits. Entangling our school children in the criminal justice system increases the odds that they same children will be dependent on the government later in life. Sad, but true. And yet, we continue to vote for politicians that seek to increase government power, rather than decrease. We only have two parties to chose from, neither of which seem too concerned about how many folks we have incarcerated, or how many things are now illegal. I know I've used this quote a thousand times, but here it is again: "The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws" -Ayn Rand