Society doesn’t trust me to use federal assistance for food or school tuition, is willing to refuse me housing and employment simply and solely based on a background check with no discussion because of my criminal record, and some countries won’t let me cross their borders…
…and yet you trust me with the “honor” to be on a “jury of peers” and serve jury duty?
Really. I find this ironic and hypocritical. What do you think?
Shame on Hoosiers, Shame on America! Give us a break! (Read on to learn more…)
I’ve learned a lot in the last 5 years about the barriers our society puts in place for people living with a criminal record. I was as surprised to learn about them as many people I talk with about my experience. I guess “ignorance is bliss.” But ignorance also keeps the status quo in place… Which is why I try to talk about what I’ve learned, in hopes that education and awareness might help remove the stigma and perhaps even help to change laws or rules to make re-entry easier.
So to clarify – we are talking about someone like myself who is no longer on parole or probation, but has “served the time” for his or her crime.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to not do any actual time in jail or prison, apart from a couple hours around my original arrest. (So I haven’t experienced the “full force” of “re-entry” – of returning to society after serving time for a crime.
For a lot of reasons, including a Higher Power who was looking out for me and some “next right things” I did when I hit bottom and sought help for my addiction, I was fortunate enough to be given a plea bargain and a chance, through probation, to have my felony charges dropped to misdemeanors – if I met the conditions of my plea bargain. I was doing well at first in 2010, but was over-confident in my ability to stay clean for the first year of my recovery (while I was on probation) – and ended up blowing the terms of my plea bargain. While I successfully completed the balance of my 12 month term without issue, I found myself “living with” a felony record.
So, what barriers are in place for someone who has served their time, but still lives with a felony record? In the State of Indiana (some of these are Federal issues, some are State-specific):
- I can’t get a student loan for tuition assistance to go back to school
- I can’t get food stamps
- If landlords run background checks, I’m likely to face barriers securing an affordable, well-maintained place to rent and live
- If employers run background checks and aren’t educated with new(er) guidelines related to “ban the box” and fair hiring practices, I’m likely to face barriers getting a job. Learn more at:
- I can’t travel to some countries in the world, including Canada (note: the same is true for individuals convicted of a DUI in the US…no travel to Canada!)
Two overarching principles emerged as key criteria in the grading system (with 1 being best and 10 the worst):
• State and federal laws should require individualized determinations about the suitability of someone with a criminal conviction for the opportunity, benefit or right sought that takes into consideration the nature of the conviction(s), the time that has elapsed since the conviction(s), the age of the person at the time of the conviction(s) and any evidence of rehabilitation.
• State and federal laws should prohibit government agencies, public and private employers, and others from considering information about arrests that did not lead to conviction when making decisions about a person’s eligibility for employment, housing, or other benefits.
Note: since I completed my probation, Indiana has made some steps in the right direction. After ~8-10 years, under certain conditions, felony records can be expunged – which makes some of the issues/barriers I’m going to talk about mostly disappear. Records are still accessible to law enforcement of course – but issues of employment, housing, travel – largely become a non-issue. But, it’s still 10 years until I reach that point…so around 2021. For details, see:
To learn more, check out: