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Misdirected Fear

A Socially Speaking Commentary

February 5, 2010

By Perry Redd

It’s clear that certain people in my country are falling short on common sense.  Many are advocating the prevention of formerly-convicted persons from gaining employment, in particular, with the Census Bureau.  In on-line blogs, they’re saying, “They (convicted felons) will take your social security number…”  Don’t they know people who AREN’T felons (bankers) are stealing your information?  They have, in many forums, used the fear of “having a felon knock on your door” as their chief talking-point.  Really, Google it!  I find their fear-mongering as unfounded and without merit…here’s why.

The fact is people will knock on your door, sit beside you in the theater, stroll by you in the mall, or call you on the phone, and you won’t even know who they are.  Two things to remember:

  1. Everyone charged with a crime was once a “first-time offender”, and
  2. The majority of mass-shooters in contemporary America were “law-abiding”, white, male  citizens

Are we fearing the right people?  To talk about ex-felons being criminal-minded is to deny that crime has no boundaries; whether in Amish communities or traditional working-class steel towns, crime is an American staple.  Some get away with theirs, while others don’t.  It will be here.  To disenfranchise other Americans—after they pay the cost for their crime—is to commit an un-American act.  Don’t get me wrong, the U.S. Constitution still blesses slavery.  The 13th Amendment states:

                Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

            That “except as a punishment for crime” thing, gives some Americans the justification to treat some sectors of society as slaves, i.e., disenfranchisement.  Even with that said, what about after one completes his/her sentence for a crime?  Or like me, when one re-gains his/her voting rights.  Where in the Constitution does it say that you can still disenfranchise an American?

More relevant is the fact that America incarcerates more people, per capita, than any other developed nation in the world. [1][2]  So chances are, you will be in close proximity with a convicted felon, like it or not.  It is what it is…the U.S. incarceration rate on December 31, 2008 was 754 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents.[3] The USA also has the highest total documented prison and jail population in the world.[1][4][5]

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): “In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year’s end — 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.”[6]

2,304,115 were incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails in 2008.[3]] In addition, according to a December 2009 BJS report, there were 92,854 held in juvenile facilities as of the 2006 Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP).

What’s problematic here, is that formerly-convicted felons will be in communities all across the country.  The prison system and U.S. law does not succumb to the unwarranted fear to lock people up forever.  Though many laws are unjust and often lack forethought, the law is sensible enough to not condemn Americans to life sentences for just anything.  The law is underscored by the reality of societal ills that serve as the genesis for lawbreaking: paying bills, substance addiction, depression, poverty, under-education, etc.  For that reason, most crimes are not capped with life sentences.

With that said, incarcerated people will get out one day.  At that point, they have to re-assimilate into the American mainstream.  Why would an American deny another the opportunity to work?  People who work, often work toward a goal, usually a promotion, more responsibility or something like that…no one I know enjoys staying at the bottom of the food chain (yet there are people who want them to stay there—that’s mainly to protect their place in the chain). 

The false sense of security portrayed that “knowing where convicted felons are” (in your neighborhood) will stop them—or anyone else, for that matter—from committing a crime, is a farce.  No one can stop anyone else from doing anything.  They couldn’t stop the “underwear bomber” or the “shoe bomber” from bringing a bomb on a plane!  They couldn’t stop Dillon Kleibold from bringing a gun into a school…com’ on, make sense!

There are those who want to stop me from getting a Census job…fact is, the government won’t hire me.  I was convicted of possessing a firearm…the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to black men.  I took the Census test to become an enumerator, and scored 100%.  I’m still unemployed…why? 

The point here, is that the best way to have harmony and peace in a society is not to disenfranchise other people from participating in that society.  In this case, we’re talking jobs.  Lack of jobs always lead to worse societal consequences.  Don’t make society worse, because of your misdirected fear.

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