Thursday, March 12, 2015

Second chance citizens

This country is beginning to notice that we over did it. Scared by a real crime wave in the 80s (possibly a consequence of childhood exposure to lead) and, habitually inclined to treat black and brown males as threatening throwaway people, we locked up a larger proportion of our population than any other country in the world.

Now we're beginning to regret it. The costs of incarcerating a felon for a year run around what it costs to attend a public college. And according to the same report, prison terms are "criminogenic." Great word coinage that.

Intuitively, that makes sense: You're locking someone up, away from family and employment, in a place where their only companions are ... other criminals. It would be small wonder to find that when they emerge from an institution, their best employment opportunities lie in the fields of mayhem and mountebankery. But that intuition now has data to back it up: Juveniles who are given harsher sentences are more likely to end up back in the criminal justice system. So the cost to law-abiding citizens may not just include the cost of imprisonment, but also more crime.

We've begun to let some folks out; California voters passed Prop. 47 last fall, leading to reduction of nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

But what if, when these people get out, they can't get jobs because employers don't dare look beyond their criminal records?
This Brave New Films video supports a campaign to "Ban the Box" -- to prevent employers from asking prospective employees about their criminal records until they have at least interviewed them. You can sign a petition at that link which will connect you to PICO National Network.

The All of Us or None campaign works in California at removing the many obstacles to bringing people out of prison and back into the community including removing gang injunctions, clearing their records where possible, and restoring voting rights.

The National Employment Law Center publishes an excellent map that shows where victories in the campaign to "Ban the Box" have already been won. California is one of those places.

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