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Served time? Great – Here’s a federal job for you.

November 3, 2015

At a lunch yesterday, the President suggested that he might use executive action to have the question regarding whether applicants had a criminal record removed from federal job applications. He cited that question as a barrier to ex-cons getting a job, hence his “ban-the-box” speech.

Presumably that’s in conjunction with the Justice Department’s release of 6,000 inmates out of a reported 46,000 or so that could eventually become eligible for early release.

Maybe figuring out how these guys would support themselves should have been done first?

As someone with first-hand knowledge of how well a job rehabilitates ex-cons, I have to slip out of my observer role here for a minute.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s my business was voluntarily part of a city-county work release program. At various times we had several guys living in half-way houses and who were due for release within six months on our payroll.

Out of seven, three escaped custody (not while on the job for us) four completed their final few months, got out on probation, and out of those four, two re-offended within six months. So, 71.4% of them had a job that paid above minimum wage, and re-offended anyway.

All of these men were in for “nonviolent” offenses, mostly drugs, although one of them was in for fraud.

As far as I know, the two that didn’t commit any crimes while they worked for us didn’t re-offend. One of them worked for us about eight months before going to a different job. The other completed probation and left the state.

I’d like to think those two went on to lead productive lives.

Still, even though they had jobs to go to when they got out of jail, five of the seven re-offended.

None of these guys were uneducated. Two had a couple of years of college. Three of the others had graduated from high school.

Interestingly, the guy that did the best only went to the tenth grade before dropping out at 16. He got his GED after he got out of jail.

Still, we knew what we were getting into. Did that mean we treated them differently?

Of course it did. For instance, they weren’t supposed to leave the premises, but one of the ones that escaped from the half-way house was constantly trying to get our other guys to drive him to the store at lunch. He was a really nice guy and a good worker, and we had to stay right on top of the situation to keep anyone from falling for his con job.

Maybe you call that profiling; I call it common sense.

These men and women will presumably be in jobs that would allow them access to all sorts of information that they wouldn’t be allowed to access if their records were known. And that’s not even counting how much expensive stuff they could steal.

Out of over two million current federal employees, there are bound to be a few undiscovered bad apples. That’s a statistical reality.

It wouldn’t seem likely that increasing that ratio is in the best interests of the country.

Maybe there are too many people serving too long sentences for comparatively minor crimes, although in many cases serious offenses are pled down to lesser charges.

The answer to making them productive citizens again shouldn’t be to encourage them to lie about their background on their job application. That’s taking “don’t ask, don’t tell” to a whole new level.

More importantly, why should we, through government influence, seek to perpetuate unlawful behavior?

How does “ban-the-box” provide an example for living an honest life?

Mr. President, did you ever hear the line that goes “Two wrongs don’t make a right?”

From → op-ed

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