Former offenders need a fair chance at employment

11/12/2020, 6 p.m.
For decades, employment after incarceration has been a growing debate.

For decades, employment after incarceration has been a growing debate. While prison is used to prepare/rehabilitate offenders before re-entering society, offenders are confronted with arbitrary and ambiguous bureaucratic policies that create insurmountable odds to obtain occupational licenses and employment after incarceration.

Most states have restrictions to the types of jobs felons can have even when they have received post-secondary education and training.

National Institute of Justice statistics show that within three years of release, about two-thirds of released prisoners are re-arrested; within five years, about three quarters of released prisoners are re-arrested.

The question becomes: When does an offender actually pay for his or her crimes?

The prevailing thought used to be once they served their time, they were free to enter into society and move past this period of their lives. But we are finding through experience and research that this is not a true statement.

A systematic influence creates a forever-scarlet letter that follows offenders for life under the guise of public safety.

When we think of these facts, we find ourselves as advocates for change. We incorporated the experience of Lalita, a native of Richmond who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, DUI and maiming as a result of a motor vehicle accident 16 years ago. Prior to her conviction, she had never had a traffic ticket.

Upon release from prison, she completed her bachelor’s degree and later received her master’s in social work while becoming a new wife and the mother of two beautiful girls.

Toward the end of her graduate studies, she began applying for positions in the field of social work and human services. She received notification that though qualified, her barrier crime conviction deemed her ineligible for employment, with multiple offers rescinded.

Lalita found herself facing a blanket barrier, which frustrated her purpose of being an educated, productive citizen who had her civil rights restored four years after release. But she still was unemployed in her field.

She is not alone. There are many who are faced with these barriers. We believe laws should be changed to protect the integrity of a “second chance” in society and that barrier crime convictions should not forever mark an offender’s ability to have a fair chance to live their best lives after incarceration.