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When Does the Punishment End? (Part Two)

W. Scott Cole

Posted on September 19, 2018 00:18

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My last TLT (THE LATEST THINKING) discussed the ways states and society prevent those with criminal backgrounds from accessing help from victim compensation funds. Today, we will look at another way felons and their families are punished after they are supposed to have repaid their debt to society.

“Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” I’m sure we are all familiar with this question. We see it every time we apply for a job. For most of us, we check the box that says “no” and move on. For those with a felony record, however, this simple question kills the hope of getting the job they are applying for.

Not because the felony is something that impacts the job they would be doing. Not because there is a law preventing them from working in certain industries. Because that question alone means, far too often, that they will not even be considered for the job.

Years after a sentence is completed, a person with a felony record must explain his poor choices, even though he or she has lived an exemplary life, except for those poor choices. Almost half of ex-prisoners have no reported earnings in the first few years after leaving prison. Among those who do find work, a full half of them earn less than $11,000 a year. That is less than a full time job at minimum wage. Of those that make a living wage, they earn on average, 40% less than those doing the same jobs that do not have a felony record.

Employers consider those with a felony record to be untrustworthy no matter how many years have passed, yet an ex-felon who is determined to stay out of prison is more likely than the non-felon to be reliable and willing to do extra work to make sure the job gets done. This especially applies to someone on parole, who must be employed in order to fulfill the terms of his parole contract.

The difficulties of finding meaningful employment for those with a felony record, which hangs over their heads for the rest of their lives, is a punishment society imposes on the ex-felon that lasts far longer than their sentence.

We want the ex-felon to live a law-abiding life after prison, but at the same time, even in the job market, we tell him that he can never fully repay his debt to society. He has to struggle harder to earn a living wage and his upward mobility financially is restricted. All this in spite of the fact that higher wages correlate directly with lower recidivism rates, especially in the first year after release.

There are good reasons why some ex-felons are prohibited from working in certain fields after release. There are also good reasons why employers should be prohibited from holding a person’s felony record against him if that conviction will have no impact on the job.

Maybe it is time to ban the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” on job applications quit punishing people with a felony record in the job market.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on September 19, 2018 00:18

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WASHINGTON -- The federal government will no longer ask job applicants whether they have a criminal record, under a new policy...

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