As a felon you face four major roadblocks from getting back into society and pursuing a successful life. They are employment, housing, access to education, and voter disenfranchisement.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice(DOJ), the average sentence a felon serves is just over three years. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year. That’s about 10,000 people each week. That means U.S. citizens are released with a great deal of their lives left to live out.
A felony conviction—not imprisonment—is the most damaging to all the barriers to reentry. So, how do you overcome such an immense challenge?
This blog post will cover how a felon can be successful.
- Minds Are Changing
- How Did We Get Here?
- What You Can Do
- A Door To Opportunity
- Background Checks
- The Job Interview
- College As An Option
- Access To Housing
- One Person One Vote
- Seeking Remedy Through The Courts
Minds Are Changing
There is a movement taking shape all over the country. The incarceration of more people than any other nation is harkening a call to action. A collection of measures and laws to reform our criminal justice system are being enacted.
As of 2010, 20 million U.S. citizens had a current or prior felony conviction. Minds are pivoting. People understand that to confine some 2.3 million adults and juveniles is not the answer.
How Did We Get Here?
“Tough on crime” policies and mass incarceration has meant that more Americans have an arrest record. One in four jobs require some type of license or certification. These are good paying, high demand jobs. But, as a felon you are automatically disqualified for life. Laws such as these do not serve our society well.
Policies that put felons to work:
- Strengthen the economy
- Help employers find good workers
- Advance racial and social justice
What You Can Do
A reentry program might be a good place to start. They are located all over the country. Reentry programs can be an invaluable tool to help connect you with the resources you need like housing and employment. Completing one demonstrates initiative on your part toward rehabilitation.
A Door To Opportunity
Along your road to success you will have to overcome many barriers just to find a job. The Fair Chance Licensing Reform was established to level the playing fields.
Fair chance licensing reform laws have been enacted in states by a number of governors. This legislation takes away barriers by giving you access to occupational licenses like dental assisting, physical therapist aides, and nurse practitioners. Your crime must have been unrelated to the job you want. Licensing board reviews vary from state to state.
Generally, as in Georgia, the determination for your license is based upon the following:
- The type of offense
- Your age when you committed the crime
- The amount of time passed since your crime
- Special circumstances
- Your show of rehabilitation
Background checks are very common. It is a problem when a felony turns up on yours…and who knows what else. A 2006 DOJ report showed that there is no single source for complete and up-to-date criminal history records. The FBI was missing information from 50 percent of its records.
Commercial databases are not accurate because not all states and agencies share information, information is not updated, and private companies conduct name based checks versus using fingerprints. The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau investigate such incidents. Your background check can affect employment, housing, child custody, and your education.
It would be wise to pull your background check and see what is on it. You might need to correct some wrong information. You can practice answers to any questions about your past. You might have to appear in person for your license.
It is a good idea for you to pull your credit history and a background check on yourself. The credit histories on the three major bureaus are free and you can do it once a year. You can see what is out there and clear up any wrong information.
A background check is going to reveal your criminal history. Performing one beforehand allows you to formulate responses for the questions during the interviewing process. Also, you might need to correct some wrong information.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers to give you a copy of the report so that you can read the employer’s review. You can also correct anything that is wrong.
The Job Interview
It is a good idea for you to pull your credit history and a background check on yourself. The credit histories from the three major bureaus are free and you can do it once a year. You can see what is out there and clear up any wrong information. You can also use your background check to formulate responses for questions during job interviews.
A background check is going to reveal any criminal history. There are measures to help you clear up your records. The Clean Slate Clearinghouse addresses low-level convictions and cases with no convictions. It also eliminates the cost of an attorney and other fees associated with the process.
Pennsylvania is the first state to pass the law. Utah and Connecticut as well as other states are set to initiate their own clean slate laws. Check out the website to see if your state is one of them. Getting your criminal history sealed will help a great deal toward your success.
The “Ban the Box” movement requires employers to get rid of the question about your criminal history on job applications. It also attempts to reduce employers’ access to criminal records until later on in the application process. The idea is that the employer may learn of your felony record but only after you have demonstrated your qualities for the job.
In 2015, President Obama “banned the box” on applications for federal government jobs. Many states, local governments have “banned the box.” Private employers, like Wal-Mart, Target, and Koch Industries have done the same.
College As An Option
Education can be a pathway for felons to transition out of prison on to a great career. Assess to education cuts the likelihood of felons returning to prison within three years by over 40 percent. You have already served your time.
The U.S. Department of Education encourages colleges and universities to remove barriers to higher learning. Many colleges and universities have adopted fair chance admission standards like “Beyond the Box.” This program puts criminal related questions after the initial admission decision or after the student meets the criteria.
Community colleges have open enrollment policies. That means that they do not ask you to check a box or reveal your crime. In California and Texas, their public colleges and universities are becoming accessible for all qualified students. The Arizona State University system is doing the same. If your crime is revealed you get an opportunity to provide context about your circumstances.
Access To Housing
With housing, you must compete for the same limited resources as citizens who don’t have a criminal record. There are resources that don’t restrict services for felons. They are called reentry programs.
Some states allow Section 8 HUD housing for felons depending on the nature of the crime committed. For instance, if the crime was extremely violent, like rape or murder, you would not qualify. HUD housing can take years to become available so apply as soon as possible. You can get up to 70% off your housing.
Catholic Charities USA also assists ex-offenders in getting housing. Many states run their own housing programs. For instance, Washington State has a Reentry Housing Pilot Program(RHPP) for high-risk/high-need felons who are homeless.
One Person One Vote
6.1 million Americans can not vote due to felony convictions. 1 out of every 13 African Americans can not vote due to voting disenfranchisement laws. These are people who’ve served their time but are prevented from weighing in on the direction of their government.
Eight in ten U.S. residents support voting rights for citizens who have completed their sentences. About two-thirds support voting rights for those on parole or probation.
Seeking Remedy Through The Courts
If your felony record is still preventing you from getting bonded you have some options. You can get your record expunged or sealed. it improves your chances of getting bonded dramatically. The process of expungement or getting your records sealed depends on the state where you live. You should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney for this and be honest about your situation.
You will need to demonstrate initiative—that you are actively attempting to get back into society. This can be done by going to counseling, advancing in your education, and being gainfully employed. Completing some type of re-entry program is extremely helpful toward self improvement and getting your record expunged.
If you never committed the felony you can seek a pardon or a Certificate of Actual Innocence. A pardon is a form of clemency. You are forgiven for your crime but you still have your felony record. You can be eligible for a presidential pardon five years after your sentence or release from confinement. A presidential pardon does not expunge your record.
A Certificate of Actual Innocence says that you are innocent and that you should have never been arrested. It states that the criminal mark should have never existed in the first place. You can not get a Certificate of Actual Innocence in every state.
In The Case of Florida
In Florida you can have your record expunged or sealed. However, state and federal law enforcement agencies will still have access to your records. Judges have access to your sealed records online.
If you are a defendant you might have to reveal your felony conviction. For example, if you are trying to become a court appointed guardian.
Many employers will still have access to your sealed or expunged records.
In Florida, expunging or sealing a record does not update onto federal or private databases. Private companies can purchase the information from the counties and state.