Saturday, July 23, 2016

GateHouse: Why give criminals a second chance?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
July 22, 2016

Several years ago when Ohio enacted legislation that provided an opportunity for offenders to wipe clean their record, Governor John Kasich said, “Who here doesn’t need to be redeemed? We are giving people a second chance.”

Why do criminals need a second chance?

When ex-offenders are released from prison their convictions make it extremely difficult to support themselves because of government-imposed barriers to successful reentry. For instance, Ohio has 46 statutes that impose driver license suspensions. Each of those contributes to the difficulty offenders have in finding or keeping a job.

Criminal records are easily available to potential employers, landlords and other members of the community. As a result, ex-offenders are frequently denied access to employment, housing and other community resources.

The stigma of a criminal past is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. An offender is convicted, goes to prison, gets out, can’t find legitimate work or housing, returns to crime, and back to prison. The cycle of recidivism is costly. The financial cost can be quantified. According to the Vera Institute, state prison population has grown 700 percent nationwide since the 1970s. The average cost to house an inmate for a year is $31,286. The human cost — equally enormous — cannot be broken down into tidy facts and figures.

Federal and state statutes prohibit certain types of employment for those convicted of a litany of offenses. Ex-offenders are statutorily prohibited from obtaining licenses for a number of occupations, according to the Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable.

Jobs requiring contact with children, some health care occupations and security firms are out-of-reach of ex-offenders. Many employers are simply reluctant to hire ex-offenders to positions that require handling money, merchandise, or where there is limited ability to monitor employee performance.

There are inherent obstacles for ex-offenders. Nearly 70 percent of all offenders are high school dropouts. In “Every Door Closed: Barriers Facing Parents with Criminal Records,” researchers found that about half of all offenders are “functionally illiterate.” Many offenders had limited, if any, employment history prior to incarceration and an absence of job skills.

However, a Texas study found that parolees who obtain employment spend more time crime-free in the community than unemployed parolees. The study further indicated that crime-free periods are indicative of positive behavioral changes that should be supplemented with clinical interventions to help offenders maintain the initial motivation associated with employment.

There are already some federal prohibitions against job discrimination regarding ex-felons. In the fall of 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that screening out job applicants with a criminal record that would not affect their job performance is illegal because it has the effect of excluding minorities and males — these groups have disproportionately higher conviction rates than the general population.

This past June, the Obama Administration announced a series of education and jobs programs designed to ensure that people who are returning from prison to the community are equipped with the skills and resources necessary to obtain employment and support their families.

The Administration’s efforts include the Second Chance Pell Program. The Department of Education and selected colleges and universities will partner with a number of federal and state correctional institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. The Department of Labor will provide $31 million in grants to provide job training and a path to employment after prison.

Policymakers are coming to terms with the human and financial toll of a failed, and in some instances, a non-existent prison reentry system. Positive steps are being taken, but the road is long and the time is short.

— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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