Extending Prison Terms Beyond Prison Walls
Most of the people reading this blog entry have never been a felon, and hopefully they never will. For many citizens, it is easy to ignore the rights of felons and ex-felons, drawing the conclusion that any obstacles that felons face are the just, natural consequences of their actions. In fact, in addition to societal prejudice against ex-convicts who have served their time, there are plenty of legal restrictions preventing such people from voting or holding a variety of professional jobs. David Stokes has already pointed out how such laws needlessly deplete our work force by making it illegal for many employers to choose to hire ex-felons, even those who have served the full punishment for their crimes as dictated by law.
Not only is barring felons from professions such as hairdressing or real estate bad economic policy, it is also unjust in that it extends a criminal’s punishment beyond the confines of prison, to the rest of his or her life. When a person is found guilty of a crime, a judge decides on a sentence, which is sometimes modified by a parole board. This sentence is intended to make up for the crime. However, according to Human Rights Watch:
Offenders may lose the right to vote, to serve on a jury, or to hold public office, among other “civil disabilities” that may continue long after a criminal sentence has been served.
Some would go so far as to label continuing disenfranchisement of ex-felons, such as being barred from voting or working in certain professions, as a form of double jeopardy, which is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment.
According to Associate Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter in this article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, inability to find a job is the biggest obstacle for prisoners attempting to rejoin society. Carpenter, who presides over attempts to reintegrate prisoners into the community, praised a program that uses federal subsidies to employ newly released prisoners in part-time community service jobs. Such programs could make a huge difference to ex-cons who are barred from so many professional licenses. If such barriers were dissolved, on the other hand, then the government wouldn’t need to waste money on subsidies that pay people to hire ex-cons.