Second Chances

Jun 23, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Why are we making it so difficult for Americans to get a second chance? Last week, former President Donald Trump was the first President to be convicted of a felony (34). While his conviction doesn’t bar him from running for office, it highlights a critical issue: over 19 million Americans with felony convictions face severe challenges in finding employment. Unlike Trump, whose wealth and influence certainly shield him from these struggles, many people with records are trapped in a cycle of poverty and joblessness due to state and federal policies that permit, and even facilitate, bias against hiring them.

Criminal records often lock people out of the job market, making everyone less safe. For most individuals with records, getting a job is a matter of survival. Policies across the country effectively disqualify and deter them from obtaining employment. In 2016, 39% of people in state prisons were jobless before their arrest, with Black people (46%) and women (53%) particularly affected. Each year, over 600,000 people return from prison, struggling to find jobs, housing, and healthcare due to these restrictions. Despite actively seeking employment, they face unemployment rates five times higher than the general public, driven by discriminatory policies, not necessarily individual shortcomings.

State laws often ban people with felony convictions from many jobs, especially those requiring professional licenses, such as bartenders, healthcare workers, and real estate agents. Even when explicit bans are absent, the discretionary power of licensing agencies deters many from applying. For example, in Texas, someone with a record must fill out an extensive “Supplemental Criminal History Information” form to work as a plumber’s apprentice. In New York, people with records need express permission from the Secretary of State to work in real estate.

Reforming these policies is crucial to give people a fair chance. After all, they have served their sentence and paid their debt to society.  Why make them pay that debt forever?  States should:

  • Reform licensing practices to avoid automatic rejection of people with felony convictions.
  • Ban blanket employer discrimination to allow individuals a second chance.
  • Implement automatic record expungement procedures after a certain amount of years and based on the offense.

These measures would help those with criminal records reintegrate and contribute to society, promoting public safety and reducing recidivism. While Trump’s wealth will ensure he doesn’t face these same issues, most other people need a fair chance to rebuild their lives. Lowering these obstacles is essential for everyone’s safety and well-being.

It’s time to recognize that everyone deserves a second chance. The barriers we impose on people with criminal records are not just unfair; they are counterproductive. We must break the cycle of poverty and policing by allowing individuals to rebuild their lives, support their families, and contribute to their communities. By reforming these discriminatory policies, we can create a safer, more just society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.  Let’s hope whoever the next President is, felon or not, agrees.

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