No, it is not that F word. It is the F word – Felon. The constant use of this F word, felon, to describe a former incarcerated individual reduces his or her chance for a successful re-entry into society. Last week, I looked at ads for house rentals. I noticed an owner’s exclusions for potential tenants. The ad indicated no smokers, no pet owners, and no felons. The collateral damage from a felony conviction has always been extensive. Ex-offenders are now the untouchables of American society. You may have successfully completed your prison sentence without any violations and obtained an education in prison, but you are forever branded a felon. This American caste is not only defined by the loss of the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, but this sub-class is chained to a lower economic strata– unemployable. The many obstacles to a successful re-entry for a former inmate has included the inability to rent a home, the loss of the right to vote, and not finding employment.
Over five million Americans are disenfranchised from voting even if the former inmates are again productive members of society, who pay taxes. Several states do not restore the right to vote to ex-offenders upon completion of their prison sentence. Nineteen states allow former inmates the right to vote only upon completion of their sentence. Thirteen states allow probationers and parolees the right to vote. You can view the infographic from 2012 losing the right to vote.
Many felons are unable to obtain employment. Employers are hesitant to hire a convicted felon and cannot move beyond the felon’s record. Many job interviewer’s expressions have ranged from skepticism to being very uncomfortable and numerous times to hostility.
Americans have always complained about the high recidivism rate in the United States. This American crisis will continue until the many obstacles confronting re-entry are eliminated. After completing their prison time, felons should have their right to vote fully restored. Employers should not be able to discriminate against individuals who have records without a reasonable basis for the decision, such as the prior charge was related to the prospective employment. The federal, state,and local governments need to implement effective programs that will create jobs for these individuals in order to achieve successful re-entries. At the end of the day, society needs to treat former inmates as returning citizens and not as felons.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com