The traditional example of a Scarlet Letter was the Puritan woman in the book, The Scarlet Letter, who cheated on her husband. She had to wear a red “A” for adultery. The new scarlet letter is “F” for Felon.
The constant use of the F word, felon, to describe a former incarcerated individual reduces his or her chance for a successful reentry into society. Last week, I looked at ads for house rentals. I noticed an owner’s exclusions for potential tenants. The ad prohibited no smokers, pet owners, and felons.
The collateral damage from a felony conviction has always been extensive. Ex-offenders are now the untouchables of American society. Even if you have successfully completed your prison sentence without any violations and even obtained an education in prison, you are forever branded a felon. This American untouchable caste system is not only defined by the loss of the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, but this subclass is chained to a lower economic class– unemployable. The many obstacles to a successful re-entry for a former inmate has included the inability to rent a home, the loss of the right to vote, and not finding employment.
Over seven million Americans are disenfranchised from voting even if the former inmates are now productive members of society, who pay taxes. Several states do not restore the right to vote to ex-offenders upon completion of their prison sentence. Nineteen states allow former inmates the right to vote only upon completion of their sentence. Thirteen states allow probationers and parolees the right to vote.
Many felons are unable to obtain employment. Employers are hesitant to hire a convicted felon and cannot move beyond the felon’s record. Many job interviewer’s expressions have ranged from skepticism to being very uncomfortable and numerous times to hostility.
Americans have always complained about the high recidivism rate in the United States. This American crisis will continue, until the many obstacles confronting reentry, are eliminated. After completing their prison time, felons should have their right to vote fully restored. Employers should not be able to discriminate against individuals, who have records, without a reasonable basis for their decision–such as the prior charge was related to their prospective employment.
The federal, state,and local governments need to implement effective programs that will create jobs, in order to achieve successful re-entries. At the end of the day, society needs to treat former inmates as returning citizens and not as felons.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com