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Here's an idea: let people "work off" their criminal records

  1. Dec 7, 2014 #1
    Perhaps one of the biggest problems facing life in america today is the fact that once someone has been convicted of a crime and done their time, they are still being punished.

    Personal Background:
    I have a criminal record, including 2 felonies and a long list of misdemeanors. Long story short i was a habitual criminal with a substance abuse problem. I never killed anyone, never raped anyone, but still im treated as the lowest of the low.
    Not being one to get ahead of myself by trying to land an engineering job with a criminal record, no job history, and no secondary education, i decided id take a forklift certification course. Finished that, but unfortunately (as many of you may know) i was still setting my sights too high. The order of the job-getting process goes Interview, Job offer, then background check. Every time i got a job offer and then had the offer revoked on grounds of the background check i could feel myself growing more and more hateful and cynical of society. This morning i realized i have 2 ways of emotionally handling the situation- I could be mad at society, or depressed for doing this to myself.

    Then the epiphany(obvious now): With no job history and a criminal record i am unhirable, but maybe i could fix the no job history thing and prove to the prospective employers that im changing my life around.
    So I applied to volunteer at Restore(habitat for humanity) and an animal shelter. In a way you could say there were ulterior motives, but regardless id love helping unfortunate people and animals.
    So, im feeling once i start volunteering ill feel better about myself, Ill get a chance to socialize and quit isolating, and on top of it all ill have some valuable work experience. I got a feeling employers are gonna eat that up when they look at my resume(provided they have a soul), especially considering im being proactive and im not doing it because im obligated to as a condition of probation or parole.

    The Idea:

    Allow expungement of criminal records upon completion of community service. This should be allowed for pretty much all crimes(but probably not rape). This would allow people to turn their lives around, and end the viscious cycle of poverty and crime. Often people with criminal records are barred from certain professions(such as finance and law) permanently. Sure, i could volunteer my ass off, but regardless for the rest of my life i can never be a banker or lawyer because its against the law.
    This "work for expungement" idea should be nation-wide. One of the big things about expungement law is they vary by state. I currently live in missouri, but my charges are from the great state of wisconsin(perhaps you heard about scott walker not granting a single pardon during his entire time in office to garner votes from republicans). Wisconsin laws for expungement(expungement is not a pardon, but a sealing of records) are different from missouri laws- Because i have 2 felonies i am not elligible for expungement in wisconsin, however missouri law allows for multiple felon expungements)
    Considering most companies do nation-wide background checks, this is entirely unconstitutional and wrong. (ironic considering "state-rights" passes for democracy in america)
    Furthermore, expungements take lawyers, and lawyers cost money. This is incredibly wrong, because it imposes a double standard, and adversely affects the already screwed up wealth gap in america, on top of keeping poor people with criminal records unemployed.
    How about this: instead of having to pay to wipe the slate clean, why not do something good instead?

    This should be how criminal records are handled. I challenge anyone here to prove me wrong.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2014
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  3. Dec 7, 2014 #2

    Doug Huffman

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    Heck, we can't even make people work for a living. Working as penance would be cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the BoR - that includes the Second Amendment (that "shall not be infringed") enumeration of the natural law right to the defence of life.

    As to proof and innocence in American jurisprudence; there are three standards: In criminal law one is presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil court one may be required to prove ones innocence by a mere preponderance of evidence. In the court of public opinion where we play, one may be condemned guilty on mere say so.
  4. Dec 7, 2014 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    The fact that you said that this shouldn't be applied to rape indicates that you are not unhappy with the policy per se, but are unhappy where the line is being drawn. In short, other people's felonies should not be forgiven, but yours should be. One could argue that the line today between crimes where there are lasting post-incarceration effects and where there are not is the line between felony and misdemeanor. Under this argument, your position is that crimes that are presently considered felonies should actually be misdemeanors. I think that's a position that could be discussed, but it would have to be crime by crime.

    Your position on Gov. Walker seems to suggest that a pardon is a right. It is not. Do not confuse mercy with merit.

    Finally, I would be more sympathetic to your argument had you shown some remorse for your past actions. But your argument revolves around your not liking the long-term consequences of your crimes. I can understand why you don't like that, but it doesn't cast you in the most sympathetic light.
  5. Dec 7, 2014 #4

    Doug Huffman

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    The crime does not define felon. A felon is liable to a year and a day or more of incarceration, pretrial interventions and supervision as parole not withstanding. Aggravating circumstances may elevate a nominal misdemeanor to felony range punishment. Wisconsin once had an enhancement of disorderly conduct that armed could make a DC a felony. That has been mooted by 2011 Act 35.

    I was in a jury pool for petit court, Judge Eggleston, a pool of a hundred. The Judge lectured for nearly an hour on the definition of felon, as above. Then he requested all that thought that they might be disqualified as felons consult with him, only 20 of us remained seated and the pool dwindled. I was empanelled.
  6. Dec 7, 2014 #5
    maybe youre right about a rape thing (after all sexual orientation isnt a choice)
    If i was black, gay, disabled, etc i wouldnt have a choice. But still under the equal oportunity act i am not protected from something that isnt my choice either. I understand completely how you can argue that crime is a choice, but the fact is it isnt a choice anymore. The past is past and i cant do anything about it. Maybe im not the same person i was before. Have you ever thought maybe with each passing second, you are no longer the same person?
  7. Dec 7, 2014 #6


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    I disagree, people have a right to know what you are capable of based on what you have done. Challenge people to prove you wrong? No, you need to provide statistics to show you are right.
  8. Dec 7, 2014 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    If you want to argue you're a different person, you can't exclude rape and murder from your argument - aren't the perpetrators of those crimes now different people too?

    And yes, I agree that crime is a choice. Our actions have consequences, sometimes long term consequences.As I said before, I think your argument would be more sympathetic if you regretted the actions you took, and not merely their consequences to you.
  9. Dec 7, 2014 #8


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    It's not clear what you are saying here. What does sexual orientation have to do with committing rape?
  10. Dec 7, 2014 #9
    as far as the rape thing goes, We are talking about crime and poverty. If someone rapes someone, it means somethings wrong with them, and probably has nothing to do with poverty. please dont derail the discussion.
    Obviously i regret my actions. I dont know if by regret you mean i feel bad in my conscience morally, or i regret it because of the results, but i guess it would have to be both.

    Scroll down to Employment and recidivism(recidivism means returning to prison)
    A particularly good one, which not only shows recidivism in relation to employment, but also in relation to education level:
  11. Dec 7, 2014 #10
    The excerpt runs counter to your argument as I read it, or as an employer would read it. It shows that those incarcerated, do have a tendancy to commit a crime, irregardless of the timeframe. What does a statistic of lower recidivism risk of 68.5% actually mean? As a supposed risk factor, it goes against the individual, who is now being lumped into a crowd of people who eventually may end up back in court defending their actions, or in prison. As an individual of that group, one does have that uphill battle to fight to prove to others that he/she is not now part of that group, and should be lumped into the group of the general population where the propendancy to commit a crime should be somewhat lower. . It may seem unfair, and probably is, for anyone who actually does make a commitment to turn away from a previous lifestyle.
    I do feel though for the difficulties you are facing, but slog on and a break should present itself, hopefully sooner than later.
  12. Dec 7, 2014 #11
    im pretty sure the "averaged 31.4 months before being re-incarcerated, with a
    range of 9 to 60 months" only applies to those who did return. Admittedly some studies may skew the numbers, especially if there is a political motive, but the second report ( notice its .gov) really does show some shocking numbers.
    I wish i could find a document containing the number of people without criminal records who will go to jail in a certain timeframe to put it into context.
    Also worthy of noting: the united states holds more prisoners per capita than just about any other country in the world.
    land of the free indeed. Although we dont know north korea's exact prisoner rate, it is estimated to be about the same as united states, which is second only to Seychelles.
    Another way to put it: although america has 5% of the worlds population, a literal quarter of the worlds prisoner population is being held in the united states.
    Im not lying.
    at 22,000 per year per prisoner, america is pissing away money to keep people in jail instead of improving the re-integration programs such employer liability insurance(provided by the government to protect companies from law suits resulting from hiring a felon who does something wrong) or the WOTC. (work opportunity tax credit).
    Personally, i think too little is being done. You may think thats my subjective opinion, but in another life if i was given the data id probably still feel the same way.
  13. Dec 7, 2014 #12


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    The basic problem of employment for those who have criminal records is not a new one.

    I agree that trying to find work with a criminal record dogging you is a horrible situation to be in. It puts you in a position, where as much as you may now be a different person from the one who committed the crime, you will always be judged by your conviction. This is compounded by a general lack of public sympathy. And employers, even if they are sympathetic and want to hire you, can be put in a very difficult position if they ever have to justify hiring a criminal.

    However I disagree that a criminal record should be completely expunged after the completion of a sentence. People, particularly potential employers, and the people this person might be working with, have a right to know who has been convicted of what.

    You might gain more traction with an argument in favour of programs that would allow those with criminal records to obtain some kind of official certification declaring they no longer pose any greater risk of repeating their crime than any member of the general public (on average) - a type of green checkmark in a box next to the work "rehabilitated." Although even with that you have to deal with issues such as cost, validity, and the trust of the person/group doing the hiring.
  14. Dec 8, 2014 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    Yes. And so what? If your position were that we are sending too many people to prison, this would be evidence. But your argument is that we should expunge records of felons like yourself (and not felons not like yourself), which does not follow. Indeed, very little of this follows a logical argument. I think you would be more convincing with a little more logic and structure to what you are posting.
  15. Dec 8, 2014 #14


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  16. Dec 8, 2014 #15

    Doug Huffman

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    Similarly, there is a discussion with poll on-going at my gun carry discussion forum. The poll is 15/16 AGAINST Wahlberg's pardon, and this in a pro-natural rights population. There I frequently remark: If a felon may properly be disbarred his rights under color of law, then we all can be legally disarmed merely by sufficiently lowering the bar of felony (of which there are many examples, stressed vets, alleged abusers, et cetera). I marked the poll NO for the hateful nature of the crime by a privileged child and the media spin.
  17. Dec 8, 2014 #16
    It seems to me since some bring up the "felons like yourself, and felons not like yourself" it might be fruitful to describe your felonies. If it is a problem to describe them exactly, at least note if they were violent crimes against a person or crimes involving property. In Wahlberg's case for example, not only do I not see the point (how can this affect his life now other than his self-image?), I can't possibly excuse blinding someone who has in no way threatened the perpetrator just because he was "16 and drunk". If he hadn't been 16 and tried as an adult his consequences would likely have been far greater, so his age has already been considered. Drunkenness or any sort of substance abuse is not the same as "temporary insanity" under the law, since "altered states", especially ones leading to violence, tend to denote a troubled psyche and one perhaps more likely to be repeated.

    That said this is indeed a difficult problem that I think is based in societies perceived need for punishment over rehabilitation and also the many laws that still exist regarding private behavior with no victims other than possibly oneself. Incidentally, there is a counter move to stop "pissing away money" which is utilizing felons in prison essentially as slave labor which has led to many privately owned prisons, increasing in popularity and profits. Oh Man! That's got to be a huge leap in beneficent Justice <sarc>.

    Back to employers - Employers know that employee pilferage is a large concern and that many people do it who would never consider themselves remotely criminal. If I were an employer I might rather have an employee I strongly suspect I need to watch carefully lest he steal from me, than someone I'm given to thinking would never stoop to do so. Somehow I prefer to not become so cynical that I assume everyone is a thief. However, I would definitely prefer to have the knowledge and choice to not hire someone who might endanger my existing employees. They have the right to feel safe on the job and under my care.

    FWIW, I do recognize that the modern version of the Golden Rule is in play here too, since wealthy families can avoid many of the punitive actions of Law Enforcement that less privileged must endure.

    I haven't a clue as to how it could be done but we have hundreds if not thousands of absurd laws on the books dating back considerably more than a century, often entirely fueled by racism and with the silent expectation that they expressly would not be applied as "blind justice" but rather at specific targets. Lists of such insane and unjust laws are on the internet and in books as humor, and they are funny, unless one is used to put you away.

    Since I can't imagine how we could ever agree on which laws to throw out as outdated and unjust partly because of the fact that there are so many and what ripples such actions might create, let alone the public perception that government should be "guardians of morality", let me just reiterate - maybe try to expand on the nature of what felonies you were convicted.
  18. Dec 8, 2014 #17
    Maybe my original idea was too specific. But hey i was being creative. Regardless too little is being done. I understand a free market is a good thing, but also the pressures of the free market result in unfair conditions for underprivelidged people. As i said before, the programs in effect are NOT SUFFICIENT. The WOTC and employer liability insurance are way underpowered, and simply do not do enough to protect citizens.

    Its true prisoners are being used as slave labor. Although i never went to prison(all my crimes were petty enough for county jail), the private companies who run prisons do exploit the prisoners. (the pay for someone in prison working a full time job is something on the order of 50 cents an hour-the logic is prisoners dont have to buy much- just chips or ramen noodles on canteen, but this information appears to be largely suppressed.)

    Like i said before. increase government provided employer liability insurance to the level that private companies offer for non felons (companies that hire felons can not be insured by private companies) and increase the work opportunity tax credit. Given that 8.6 % of people living in america have a felony(incase anyones wondering, 25% of blacks have a felony), i think it would even be reasonable to even enact an affirmative action policy for felons who in some way proved themselves to be rehabilitated.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2014
  19. Dec 8, 2014 #18
    If we don't provide some means for felons who have "done their time" to be able to provide for themselves legally then the statistics for recidivism become self-fulfilling prophecy and we just might as well give every felon a life sentence. That being unsupportable, we clearly need to do something but exactly what that can be is quite difficult especially in light of the "whose ox is gored" concept where even if everyone agrees we need to explore say, nuclear generated power, nobody wants to have one built in their community whether justified or not. It's a tough problem.
  20. Dec 8, 2014 #19
    The entire purpose of any government, and by inheritance its sub-divisions such as the 'Judicial branch,' is (or at least should be) to protect the public. In this respect, there should be two major classes of crimes - those that harm people, and those that deprive people of the use of their property. To protect the public from known threats, people who are convicted (legally proven in court) of crimes of harming people should be isolated from the public until they can be again proven (legally in court) to be unable to harm other people in the future. To protect the property of people, those who commit crimes that deprive others of their property should be required to (1) make their victims whole again (100% restitution) and (2) pay a penalty to compensate the court/public/victim(s) for the expenses incurred as a result of the crime.
  21. Dec 8, 2014 #20
    What about when crimes are committed against the disenfranchised? who will protect them?
    update to my story: The animal shelter looks perfect for me, while habitat for humanity kinda scared me off with the god stuff, but we'll see how it goes(i swear, if at orientation tomorrow they crack a joke about it being "orientation" im walking out)
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