One Reason So Many Felons are Repeat Offenders and How to Fix It
56% of violent felons are repeat offenders and 61% of all felons are repeat offenders, partially because we’ve given them no choice. Many criminals will find themselves out of prison, their time served, free men, and unable to find a job. Most companies will refuse to hire someone with a felony on their police record; this is especially true for violent felons. Left with no employment options, it is easy to imagine that these felons will return to crime. So what can we do about it?
Currently, when someone commits a crime society has decided it is necessary to punish them. For most felony offenses the punishment is isolation from the rest of society for a predetermined amount of time in a prison. This is fine by me. There are no surprises this way. Everyone knows that if they do X they will be punished with Y. This means no one should ever feel surprised by the punishment they receive.
We also have laws barring people from being prosecuted (punished) more than one for the same crime. These laws exist to keep criminals from being harassed with litigation by the government or a plaintiff unhappy with the outcome. Unfortunately these laws don’t deal with the entire problem, and when it should the supreme court sides on the side of injustice.
The problem with these laws is that our definition of what constitutes a punishment is somewhat inaccurate. Through many court decisions it has been accepted providing criminal history to the public does not constitute an additional punishment. But when you are treated differently for the rest of your life, treated with contempt, it certainly feels like punishment to the person trying to turn their life around.
By making this information available they have provided information that should be a private matter - a debt owed and a debt paid. The court believes that the resulting inability to get a job is not additional punishment for their crime. However, given the primary job of these laws is to provide a known deterrent for committing the crime in the first place, perhaps people would be less likely to commit these crimes if they realized ahead of time that they would be almost entirely unemployable after the fact.
Additionally, there have been a number of complaints about Megan’s Law, the law requiring sex offenders to register, but the Supreme Court has decided that it doesn’t constitute double jeopardy.I’ve lived in a neighborhood that had a ex-sex-offender move in and I would say most people’s attitudes were decidedly negative. Their have been instances of sex offenders moving into new neighborhoods and having their homes vandalized. Police show up at their door whenever anything unusual goes on. They can never live a normal life. Of course you’ll say the victim can never live a normal life after their attack. If that’s really how you feel we should be working towards a system where we arrange for the criminal to be raped daily for a few years. An eye for an eye? Sorry, It’s a little dispassionate for me and current prisons are only barely better for sex offenders in their current state.
These types of laws represent neither the the spirit of the law nor the spirit of our justice system. If we believe in our justice system and we believe these offenders are ‘rehabilitated’ then why must they suffer the badge of that crime indefinitely? We have decided that juvenile records should be locked to these types of searches to forgive ‘youthful indiscretions’, kids making bad decisions. But, once you hit 18 that ability to make good decisions better be cranked up to 11 (It’s 1 more than 10) because now you get branded a felon for the rest of your life. I hear your complaints immediately, “Only people released on parole are supposedly rehabilitated the others aren’t”. I agree.
The problem is the black and white nature of the law. We assign some arbitrary number of years to each felony and we call it even. The fact that things like sex offender registries and employment problems for ex felons exist means we don’t trust these people to not do it again. I think the answer is we stop telling people when they will be released.
We should assign the penalty of ‘life’ to all felonies with a parole hearing every 5 years. Implement more programs designed around reforming our criminals and when the parole board decides they are rehabilitated they are let out. No one can check their criminal background, make it illegal for employers to even ask the question. We will get rid of the sex registry - If the person is out on the streets it’s because the parole board decided they were no longer a threat to society. If a handful of people in a jury box are enough to decide if someone is guilty then a handful of people on a review panel are enough to decide if someone should go free, we an even make this a public service - just like jury duty. On a second offense, for the same crime,Â we assign the penalty of life and allow parole hearings every 10 years while making their criminal record publicly available. Of course, for a third offense of the same crime it’s game over. Either life in prison or the death penalty in cases involving murder.
These simple steps will allow us to get felons in jobs where they hopefully won’t be tempted to return to whatever criminal pursuits they previously enjoyed. Also, society will have a way to determine if someone should be released just like they determine guilt. Some people may think my solution especially harsh, I think it is far kinder than the reality faced by reformed ex-convicts today. It has the compassion our current system lacks - the good judgement of the people - and will remove silly negotiations for plea bargaining - a practice with no concern for the public’s best interest… but that’s a separate post.
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