Other projects have kept me from posting on this blog as frequently as I’d like. But I wanted to pass along some recent developments affecting those with criminal records.
First the good news:
The pubic might not be as punitive as you think …
In fact, Americans are surprisingly supportive of sentencing offenders to shorter-terms to reduce the high costs of incarceration. Some 91 percent of respondents to a recent survey on crime and punishment by the Pew Center for the States said their bigger concern by far was reducing crime. To the majority of folks, the time non-violent offenders spent in custody was less important than whether the system did a better job of making sure that they didn’t commit a new crime after their release.
So why the disconnect with the political rhetoric? As the Crime Report aptly noted, for most Americans this issue is more personal than political. Unfortunately, no politician wants to appear to be soft on crime — so supporting shorter sentences is often a non-starter.
On a related note, Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, has so far stuck to his pledge to help restore voting rights to felons, helping more individuals than either of his predecessors notes an article in Sunday’s Washington Post. Currently, some 300,000 people who have served time for felony convictions and remain unable to vote. McDonnell’s office has so far approved 780 of 889 applications, and while the numbers aren’t huge, the governor has earned praise for the speed at which he acted.
….but hurdles remain
A reader sent me a link to an interesting series of articles on a controversy in California. Apparently, revelations that a number of former felons, some with violent crimes in their past had been hired to work as home health aides and caregivers for the elderly as part of a state program have caused quite a furor.
An inspection of employment records, which included background checks, identified 996 felons in the program and removed 786, including one person convicted of abuse and another of medicare fraud. A court ruling prohibited removal of the rest saying their offenses don’t relate to the work they’re doing.
A good sign. Obviously, I think the primary concern has to be protecting a possibly vulnerable population of individuals needing care. At the same time, I’m wary of witch hunts against people who have served their time and gone on to live law-abiding lives. As the story notes:
“We don’t want to put anybody at risk of abuse or theft, but sometimes your options of who you can get to work for you are very narrow,” said John Wilkins, a recipient of the services and co-chairman of a coalition of advocacy groups and unions.
Further, he said, “I’ve had two providers work for me who had criminal histories who were two of the best providers I have had. There is a lot of gray area. It is just not black and white.”
It a tough dilemma, and, I hope that ultimately that each case can be decided on an individual basis. A couple of my students have pursued jobs as home health aides after their release very successfully.
What do you think? Is California being too lenient or too short-sighted?