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How long do I have to pay for a mistake?
How long do I have to pay for a mistake? Is this felony a life sentence? After paying my debt to society shouldn't I be given back my rights? I paid my debt!! It seems to me that this felony has given me a life sentence.After doing research about the disenfranchisement of felons in America; I began thinking. Do people who made some mistakes deserve to get their rights back? I was shocked at what different "crimes" could take your rights away. Once you lose these rights, you have lost them forever.Do you want to know what I did? Let me tell you; I was young and when you are young you don't often think that you will get caught; and if you are caught you don't think that your sentence will follow you for the rest of your life. I was just having some fun; I wasn't hurting anyone; what is the big deal? I want to tell you how this one mistake has changed my life; and tell you of all the opportunities that have been denied me. I want to tell you of all the rights that most people take for granted; rights that I have lost forever. Anonymous (personal communication, August 2008.
One out of every 31 American adults is currently incarcerated, on parole, or on probation, and the central reality is this: nearly everyone who enters the prison system eventually gets out. The problem is, most of those ex-offenders quickly find themselves back inside. Today, there is a never-ending the cycle of prisoners ending up back behind bars within three years of release. In prisons we train prisoners in iron work, accounting, nursing, and a wide variety of other jobs. The prisoners are released and on the job applications there is a question - have you ever been convicted of a felony? If you answer yes, will you get the job? If you lie and say no - will you keep the job? Many businesses are required to do background checks on all applicants. If you had a felony you would not pass the background check. How are you supposed to support yourself when you can't even get a job as a dishwasher?
3.9 million Americans
Translating this into social and political reality, we have some 3.9 million Americans (including half a million women, overall, one adult in 50) either currently or permanently denied voting rights. This total includes 1.4 million who have completed their sentences.In some states, ex-convicts can't get a driver's license, how can they manage a job without a driver's license? It is hard to get to work; the city they live in might not have a bus system or a taxi. If they can't get to work how are they going to make a living? They really have intentions of going straight, but how are they going to manage?In Alabama, a misdemeanor drug conviction means a ban on adopting a child. In 12 states former felons are ineligible for food stamps. On paper there is no difference between felonies and misdemeanors. There is a big difference in crime seriousness; was this a repeat offence, or was it a violent crime committed against another? We not concerned with the violent offender, but we are very concerned for the people who have committed non-violent crimes, served their time, paid their fines and had their civil rights taken from them.
As record numbers of people leave prison, thousands of ex-criminals are pouring into communities. They have served their time, but their conviction bars them from many jobs. Their conviction bars them from some state and federal programs and some types of housing. Is someone leaves the prison system with no house, no job, no training, nothing; what are their hopes of remaining a law abiding citizen? It seems that we have a legal system that says, "You have been in prison, we are going to make it hard, if not impossible for you to get a job, and housing." Leinwarn, D (2007) "Ex-cons' sentences don't always end with release" USA Today.Did you know that the United States Government has a list of buildings that it is illegal to photograph? One day Keith (a tourist) was walking down the street in Arlington, Virginia when he stopped to take a picture of this beautiful building. A police officer told him to delete the photo from his camera. He later found out that the government has a list of buildings it won't allow people to photograph. But citing security concerns, it refuses to release that list or warn people in advance that they can't photograph the building. If Keith would have refused to hand over the camera or refused to delete the photo, he would have been charged with a terrorist act, this is a felony.
Do the crime, do the time
One saying that is associated with the justice system is - "Do the crime, do the time." When has a person completed doing the time? After reading about some of these people, it seems that they are going to do time for the rest of their lives. One man got out of jail for his third DUI; (driving under the influence) he couldn't return home to live with his family because he now had a felony on his record. His family was living in low income HUD housing and a person with a felony can not live in HUD housing. This man can't return to his family? What is wrong with this picture? How are we going to help him?A young man breaks his leg; he is given pain pills when he didn't use them all, he sold one of them to a friend. This young man was convicted of selling drugs. He doesn't qualify for federal student loans, he can't adopt a child, he can't vote, he can't work with vulnerable children or adults. He can't even coach his son's little league baseball team.By not giving civil rights back to the felons who have paid for their crimes, we do them a mighty injustice. We make them second-class citizens; we do our best to daily remind them that they are ex-offenders.
Mitchell, D (2007) said, "Michael Vick's career as a quarterback in the National Football League is under debate." As a convicted felon, will Vick lose any fundamental rights? And, what is the process required to get those rights restored? After Vick is unconditionally discharged he will have to wait an additional five years before submitting a restoration of rights application to the Governor, who has the discretion to grant or deny his application.This can only increase their alienation from civil society and increase the recidivism rate. Not only does simple justice demand we treat former felons better, practical common sense demands it as well.
Civil rights campaign
A mounting civil rights campaign across the country has lead a number of states to amend their laws to expand felon voting rights. (Lampo 2002: Rapoport 2002) At the national level a measure banning the states from placing any restriction on the voting rights of ex-felons reached the floor of the U.S. Senate in February; where it was defeated. Supporters of disenfranchisement have nonetheless succeeded in exerting sufficient pressure to encourage a number of states to adopt more conservative restrictions on the voting rights of felons in recent years. Kleinig, J. (2005) Journal of Applied PhilosophyCivil liberties support and a rehabilitative orientation to punishment significantly raise the likelihood of extending voting rights to all relevant categories of ex-felons. There is greater public support for a desire to promote and protect the civil liberties of unpopular groups. We find evidence that the there is more public support to protect civil liberties than to punish the ex-felon. Monza, J (2007) socsci.umn.eduWhat can we do to rectify this situation? We could write to our congressmen and our senators; we could look to see if there are any bills in the house that would address this issue. We could join organizations working on prisoner and ex-felon rights and use collective power to sway the legislature. We can speak up when people focus solely on punitive and neglect restorative justice.