They say crime doesn’t pay, and they’re right. Crime doesn’t pay, it costs. Crime costs the victims, it costs society, and it costs the perpetrator once they are caught, tried, and convicted.
Nearly 70 million Americans currently live with a criminal record, most of whom are convicted of nonviolent offenses involving drugs and firearms possession. Whether sentenced to six months of community service or six years of a hard time, many soon discover after release from their punishment that the price for their poor choices has not yet been paid in full.
It turns out society has imposed many ways in which a criminal record continues to cost an individual long after they’ve done their time. Those in this situation – particularly those who have long ago learned their lessons and genuinely wish to be good citizens – are faced with some genuinely tough obstacles going forward.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome them for the patient and the informed:
Though one could always make some kind of argument to the contrary, it’s not likely the ability to own a gun and the ability to vote are critical for earning a living. However, if someone with a criminal record decides to try and reinstate these rights, it can become an expensive proposition if they opt to go straight to a lawyer versus doing most of the legwork and research themselves.
For instance, someone with a criminal record seeking to own firearms can get the process started online. Resources for how to restore gun rights will include sections on various state laws, as each state has their own pathway to reinstatement. Convicted persons living in Texas will discover they regain the right to keep a gun in their home five years after release from confinement or probation. No need to pay a lawyer $300 to tell you something found online.
The ability or inability for someone with a criminal record to vote in a local, statewide, or national election also varies from state to state. Before picking up the phone and calling a local attorney charging by the minute, give the ACLU executive summary on voting with a criminal record a look. It lays out the complicated but otherwise useful truth regarding voting rights for convicted criminals across the United States.
Restoring rights and upholding them is nice and all, but most folks with a criminal record won’t start thinking about that until they land themselves a steady job and the financial security it brings. Unfortunately, the requirement to inform a potential employer of one’s criminal record means many otherwise qualified applicants never get that final phone call. Proponents of discriminating against convicted criminals in the workplace might say “Expand your horizons, relocate to find new opportunity!” and consider it a generous piece of advice to provide, but what about those bound by the geographical restrictions of parole and probation?
There are two ways for those with criminal records to increase the chances of employment. The first is education. While there are plenty of universities with exceptionally selective standards where a criminal record is not easy to overcome, many others are welcoming of anyone with the aptitude and desire to learn. A college degree doesn’t erase a criminal conviction, but it does make an individual more qualified for employment as well as demonstrate to potential employers a person’s dedication to a reformed way of life.
The other way for convicted criminals to better their odds of getting a good job is to have their record expunged. This essentially means having the criminal record sealed, after which it is legal to not disclose it to a potential employer. Now, having a criminal record expunged is not some magical process wherein one pays a lawyer a certain amount of money and *poof* their criminal past is suddenly gone. Many states will deny a request for expungement based on the severity of the crime, and other factors may prevent the process from occurring successfully. However, similar to restoring gun rights, an expungement is possible without a lawyer.
We expect those guilty of committing a crime to do the time. However, this time often extends long past what the judge sentenced due to a number of restrictions and policies aimed towards those with a criminal record. While it may never be possible to completely rid oneself of the cost of mistakes, it is possible to overcome the obstacles these mistakes create in order to spend the future making up for them.