Story by Brant von Goble
There is nothing inherently wrong with punishment, even of the most brutal sort, but we must offer those who have erred the chance to redeem themselves if we expect them to be anything other than habitual criminals and lifelong burdens on society. Sacrifice is the road that leads from person disgraced to citizen restored.
In the United States, 8 percent of the overall population have felony convictions and far more have criminal records of some form. Not all these people have served prison time — pre-trial diversion and probation are relatively common for certain crimes — but that is not to say they escaped punishment or that they are not being punished still.
More than 60 percent of employers check arrest and conviction records for all potential employees, with most indicating that an arrest record even if charges were dismissed or the person was acquitted at trial reduces the likelihood of hiring a candidate. And a criminal conviction of any kind diminishes the chances of receiving a job offer by half.
A felony conviction is almost certain to have a more significant effect, with felons being barred from a great many professions. We may have reason enough to prevent a convicted murderer from running a daycare center. But restrictions do not end there. Depending upon the state, a felon may be forbidden from becoming an acupuncturist, an athletic trainer, a boxer, a massage therapist, a psychologist, a radiographer, a social worker, a veterinarian, or any one of many other professions. And without expungement (a complex, expensive, and inconsistently available process) or pardon, this disability rarely goes away. There is no cure. Convicted felons face other constraints on voting rights, housing access, and international travel.
This is the punishment after the punishment. And to a certain extent, we can do little about it. Arrest records, including those officially expunged or sealed, may show up on certain private databases years after the fact. And asking the public to forgive and overlook convictions — to hire, to rent to, or to keep the company of identified criminals without bias or discrimination — is as absurd as it is unnatural. Americans are not a particularly forgiving people. And there is no good reason for them to be.
There are few more miserly in their compassion than those who wear their humanity on their sleeves. Loves mankind, hates the individual — most of us know the type. And even the most allegedly compassionate amongst us appear unable to look past an ill-worded tweet from one’s teen years. Felons face poorer odds still.
Forgiveness is the wrong route — it relies upon grace, which is neither consistent in its application nor very likely to be sustainable for any length of time. The age of bleeding hearts and short prison sentences has come and gone, and that era — running through a portion of the 1970s — was not one to which very many would want to return.