Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In the Land of Second Chances, We Must Ban the Felony Check Box; Hiring Ex-Cons; Jobs Are the Most Effective Deterrent to Recidivism

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In the Land of Second Chances, We Must Ban the Felony Check Box; Hiring Ex-Cons; Jobs Are the Most Effective Deterrent to Recidivism

Article excerpt

Mayor Francis Slay recently announced that job seekers applying for employment with the city of St. Louis would no longer have to disclose felony convictions.

This is good news for those with criminal backgrounds who have paid their debt to society and are ready to turn their lives around. As director of legal services for Fathers' Support Center, I can tell you that most of the men come to the program with a criminal record. I can also say with confidence that the overwhelming majority of these men have a sincere desire to get their lives back on track and become the fathers their children deserve. But you can't be a good father without a job.

America claims to be the land of second chances. The harsh reality is that many Americans and many American employers are reluctant to offer those second chances to someone with a criminal past. Unfortunately, the inability to see beyond an individual's past has a very powerful, and deleterious, impact on that individual's future and the futures of their children. Think of it as a revolving door. You need a job to move beyond a criminal past. If a felony conviction prevents you from getting that job, you are much more likely to return to a life of crime.

Jobs are the most effective deterrent to recidivism.

Another problem with the felony check box is that it does not distinguish between different classes of felonies, nor does it distinguish between suspended imposition of sentences and suspended execution of sentences. With an SIS, there is no conviction but employers and applications do not make this distinction.

The majority of the men receiving services at Fathers' Support Center have been convicted of the Class D felony for failure to pay child support. A typical case plays out like this. A man loses his job through no fault of his own. He can no longer pay child support, becomes 12 months in arrears and is charged with the Class D felony of criminal nonsupport. He pleads guilty and receives an SIS, with probation. Although he has committed no other crime, he must now check the same box as someone convicted of murder, forcible rape of a child or armed robbery. …

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