Recidivism And Felons In The United States

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Recidivism and felons in the United States

Thesis Statement

Take the Higher Education Act of 1998, which bars ex-felons from eligibility for Pell Grants, the largest type of federal student loans. How can ex-offenders build better lives for themselves if they are not allowed to compete for the same kinds of educational opportunities as everyone else?


Many of the legal barriers that extend beyond the completion of a prison sentence were adopted by Congress or state governments as part of the "war" on crime and drugs. These include restrictions on occupational licensing that prevent work in many types of jobs; access to public housing and other types of social programs aimed at the poorest Americans, and a variety of political rights (such as the right to vote, to serve on juries and to hold public office). The unintended consequence of these policies can be to promote the very circumstances that led to crime in the first place....Crime policy in recent decades has emphasized harsh punishment over rehabilitation, and the problems of prisoner re-entry have become increasingly difficult to ignore. (Hair 59-65)


Helping ex-inmates find jobs, reconnect with their families and become full citizens requires changes in the laws that prevent them from achieving such goals. Hundreds of jobs become off-limits to ex-offenders due to bonding or licensure requirements. In many states, for example, a felony conviction prohibits barbers, social workers, optometrists and even car sellers from practicing their trade. Some of the largest sources of stable employment, including the medical industry and the public sector, impose extensive restrictions on people with criminal records.

Finally, millions of ex-offenders are also denied the most basic right of citizenship in a democratic society: the right to vote. While we expect ex-offenders to abide by the law, most states prevent those out on probation or parole from voting, and 14 states prevent some or all ex-offenders from voting for life. These restrictions are ironic considering that almost all ex-offenders are citizens, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that no one can be stripped of citizenship because of a criminal offense. (Hair 59-65)

The sheer number of Americans ending up in prison is staggering. Last year alone, more than 600,000 Americans were released from prison. More than 14 million Americans now carry a felony conviction on their records. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, 6 to 10 times higher than that of most European countries. This remarkable number of prisoners has led to growing bipartisan concerns about how to help former offenders reintegrate into their communities.

For example, in 2003 Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich launched a four-year parole reform plan called "Operation Spotlight," which aimed to turn offenders from tax drainers to taxpayers by reducing repeat crime among convicted felons on parole over the long-term.

For those in prison, the Illinois Department of Corrections offers an innovative, state-wide re-entry initiative called Community Support Advisory Council (CSAC), which helps inmates become productive citizens while providing loving support to their families. "We start the process of re-entry the day ...
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