« New York Court of Appeals upholds most serious sex offender registration despite defendant's acquittal on most serious charges | Main | Feds forego capital prosecution for airport mass murderer, allowing guilty plea to LWOP »

April 30, 2018

"One in four American adults lives with a criminal record -- It's time for them to get a second chance"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Fox News commentary authored by James Ackerman, who is president and CEO of Prison Fellowship.  Here are excerpts:

This year the U.S. Senate recognized April 2018 as Second Chance Month. Fittingly, the resolution came six years after the passing of a man who embodied the importance of second chances: former Nixon “hatchet man” Charles Colson.  Today, the prison ministry Colson founded after his release from federal prison is at the head of a nationwide movement to recognize the dignity of people who have paid their debt to society and open up opportunities for them to succeed.

One in four American adults lives with a criminal record, and more than 48,000 documented legal restrictions limit their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things necessary for a productive life. But the people most directly affected are not the only ones who care.  Businesses, faith communities, government leaders, and other diverse groups recognize that second chances are not a partisan issue, but an issue key to the security and flourishing of all our neighborhoods....

The growing resonance of Second Chance Month confirms that the idea of a “clean slate” is central to most Americans’ thinking.  A recent Barna poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship found that about half of Americans agree that former prisoners should be afforded a chance to be productive members of their communities.  One quarter of Americans strongly agree that former prisoners should not face any further penalties after they are released.

While based on our deeply held national values, second chances are also sound criminal justice policy.  Nationwide, the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that approximately two out of three people released from prison will be arrested again within three years.  In part, this is because up to 90 percent of the formerly incarcerated struggle to find employment within the first year after release; a criminal record is often enough to put their résumé at the bottom of the stack, if not straight in the waste bin.

Others are unable to find a landlord willing to rent to them, contributing to high rates of homelessness among the formerly incarcerated.  Other restrictions include obstacles to professional licensing, educational opportunities, and voting.  These official limitations, alongside heavy social stigma, can make it extraordinarily difficult to re-integrate smoothly into society. When formerly incarcerated people recidivate, it’s damaging to public safety and costly for taxpayers.

By removing restrictions that are not necessary for safety, we help people get their hands on the rungs of a ladder to a productive, law-abiding future. I am also convinced that second chances are worth giving because so many Americans stand as living proof of their effectiveness....  When given access to second-chance opportunities, many are profoundly hard-working and innovative — because they know what it’s like to live without opportunities.  Many people with a criminal record serve on the staff of Prison Fellowship.  Throughout our society, former prisoners are parents, business entrepreneurs, faith leaders, and more.  Putting unnecessary stumbling blocks in their way only deprives society of their potential contributions.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women are returning from prison every year.  If they have paid their debt to society and are ready to lead transformed lives, we must not throw obstacles into their paths.  When people have a chance to start over, it’s not just their second chance — it’s a chance for all of us to see transformed lives, safer communities, and a more just society.

My most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," is written in the spirit of this commentary and Second Chance Month (so I figured I should promoting again here).

April 30, 2018 at 09:01 PM | Permalink

Comments

James:

Mr. Ackerman:

Leaving out reality, very much, hurts credibility.

Very often, we are speaking of criminals who have, already, had two, three, four or more chances and because of such "merciful" treatment, additional innocents have suffered, as a result and as Ackerman well knows.

Recent recidivism studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, show that offenders are re-arrested at a rate of about 60-70% within 5 years of release from prison, with many of those having repeat records of crimes, previously, as Ackerman knows.

There are many programs, which lower those recidivism rates, for a relatively small population group of offenders and those should be encouraged and supported.

It is a real disservice, to this effort, for Ackerman to leave out reality.

It is, never, time to give many of these offenders a second through seventh chance, as any knowledgeable person, as Ackerman, knows.

Do I believe in second chances? I think everyone does. But, let's look at it, honestly.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | May 1, 2018 9:40:25 AM

Dudley, can you define the characteristics of "relatively small population group of offenders" who you think merit a second chance? Are you saying that if a defendant has two priors (or more) then we ought not bother to offer any recidivism-risk programming?

The commentary notes the high re-arrest rate, and it asserts that a lack of re-entry services and other barriers for former offenders makes it especially hard for the crime-prone to avoid getting into trouble again. Do you think this is a fair point and a real concern, or do you think society already makes it easy enough for former offenders to get back on a better path?

Posted by: Doug B. | May 1, 2018 10:03:21 AM

Next week's "Landmark Cases" will deal with Gregg v. Georgia with two notable (including for this blog) guests: Kent S. Scheidegger (blogger and repeatedly involved in Supreme Court cases) and Carol Steiker ("Courting Death").

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2018 10:21:13 AM

Here's a link:

http://landmarkcases.c-span.org/Case/26/Gregg-v-Georgia

BTW, I continue to not like the word "assert" if it includes a decent argument. A person is "arguing" in that case. It might be a poor one, perhaps, on the merits, but "assert" to me is different. It to me is just stating something.

People use the word regularly differently, yes, but just a pet peeve of mine.

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2018 10:27:27 AM

For me, Joe, arguing suggests providing a set of reasons/rationales, whereas assert is a variation of "state" though perhaps with a hint of a raised eyebrow. Where is Bryan Garner when we need him?

Posted by: Doug B. | May 1, 2018 10:41:05 AM

"A recent Barna poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship found that about half of Americans agree that former prisoners should be afforded a chance to be productive members of their communities."

So, *half* of Americans *disagree* that former prisoners should be afforded a chance to be productive members of their communities? That seems extreme.

Posted by: Guy Hamilton-Smith | May 1, 2018 11:07:55 AM

"providing a set of reasons/rationales"

The comment: "asserts that a lack of re-entry services and other barriers for former offenders makes it especially hard for the crime-prone to avoid getting into trouble again." It notes, e.g., that the class of people have loads of legal restrictions, which is one of the reasons provided above and beyond a bare statement.

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2018 12:32:32 PM

The devil is always in the details:

"Others are unable to find a landlord willing to rent to them, contributing to high rates of homelessness among the formerly incarcerated. Other restrictions include obstacles to professional licensing, educational opportunities, and voting."

I doubt the first sentence. Are we really to think that the inability to get a professional license or student loans is what's holding these people back?

Posted by: justme | May 1, 2018 12:37:33 PM

One small step would be for Congress to enact a law authorizing expungement of a federal conviction for enumerated crimes. I believe, but am not certain that almost every state has such a procedure. One could exclude crimes of violence or any other class of crime. The defendant could move for expungement, say, ten years after his successful completion of supervised release or probation.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 1, 2018 1:23:29 PM

justme ... Many people, and I think this class would often be included, generally find it difficult to do certain things. It's true any one thing, like a license, isn't what is holding them back big picture. But, there is much less margin for failure here.

And, for some people, a professional license can take away which in practice one key opening. As Reason blog recently noted, many states require licenses for relatively run of the mill jobs like being a barber. And, money for education and so forth is repeatedly important, an a barrier, for a successful future beyond mere trudging along. Mere trudging along is more dangerous for this class of people, a temptation.

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2018 1:28:36 PM

At least 70 million Americans have a criminal record — that’s the same number of Americans who have college degrees. Roughly 20 million of those have a felony conviction. The rest were either convicted of misdemeanors (often without a lawyer present) or never convicted of anything; they were never charged, had charges dropped or were found not guilty. But they still have a record.
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/24/opinion/have-you-ever-been-arrested-check-here.html

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | May 1, 2018 4:10:11 PM

@Joe. It's a smokescreen or, at least, false hope. If Congress passed a law tomorrow allowing felons to vote, get professional licenses and obtain student loans nothing much would change in regards to recidivism.

But lest that stop the virtue signaling by Reason, et al.

Posted by: justme | May 1, 2018 8:58:44 PM

Opportunities for a job, education and ways to build a connection to the community (including voting) does help, hard to say how much, recidivism. All those things are factors involved for those who might be on the edge.

Posted by: Joe | May 2, 2018 1:05:28 AM

justme: suppose allowing felons to vote, get professional licenses and obtain student loan reduced recidivism by just 1%, that would still mean thousands fewer former offenders committing thousands few crimes. Wouldn't that still be beneficial to society (as well as to former offenders)?

Posted by: Doug B | May 2, 2018 8:50:48 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB