Justice for felons who served their time
Published 9:00 pm Saturday, February 23, 2013
Long after ex-felons in Kentucky have served their time and re-entered the community, they continue to face consequences as a result of their record, including barriers to housing, education and employment.
We expect former prisoners to have learned their lesson and to walk the straight and narrow, but what can we expect when the reality they face in society includes prohibitions on obtaining educational loan assistance and checking the felon box on every job application?
Extensive Kentucky regulations restrict the activities and opportunities of ex-felons in surprising and seemingly irrelevant contexts. For example, former felons are prohibited from becoming a registered geologist or pest control administrator. In essence, felony convictions are the modern-day scarlet letter.
This session, the Kentucky House will consider legislation that would allow individuals who have served their time for a lower-level felony to petition the court to expunge their record if they have lived in the community violation-free for five years. I support this measure as a matter of justice.
Justice recognizes that crime causes harm at multiple levels of society; it aims to restore the victim, the community and the offender to a right and fruitful relationship. The principles of restorative justice are not new. Indeed, the Bible is premised on the opportunity for each of us to repent and be redeemed.
On a practical level, justice advances public safety in a very direct way. When prisoners return home after serving their time and try to live a new life, but are unable to earn standing in the community, their ability to function as contributing, accountable and self-sufficient individuals is hindered. Society is actually making it harder for them to remain law-abiding individuals.
Limiting or excluding offenders from a clear and just path to restoration takes away the incentive for former prisoners to transform their lives, take responsibility for their own affairs and provide for their families. It is due time that Kentucky remove this modern-day scarlet letter by enacting legislation that will provide a path for low-level felons to fully restore their place in the community.
In America, restorative justice works to increase public safety, respect for victims and the transformation of offenders. The Republican and Democratic delegates in the Kentucky legislature should rally behind this opportunity to advance public safety and justice this spring.
Craig DeRoche is vice president of Justice Fellowship/Prison Fellowship Ministries.