Congress Set to Dump “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act”

political-subcommittee.jpgBy Thomas Kinney

The prisons are full, recidivism rate 65-70 percent, system is broken, can’t afford it any more, something must be done; we need judicial reform and a just released study confirms that the good old US of A has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population. Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does if you have been paying attention, or have any involvement with our “justice” system.

Well here is the answer. “It’s The Jobs Stupid,” borrowing the title of The-Slammer’s recent article. But if that’s really the answer, why, in spite of all of the good intentions of everyone working to implement re-entry/job programs, a number of them profiled on this web site, is it almost impossible for ex-offenders to find meaningful employment? Could it possibly be because we throw many more roadblocks in their path than can be imagined, and that there are more people placing roadblocks than there are those trying to clear the way? The worst roadblock builder is the justice system itself, as it is largely designed in a way that perpetuates failure. If the system isn’t broken, it is certainly badly bent.

There are too many ways to become an ex-offender to discuss, but I am going to highlight one offender group that probably has more difficulty finding employment than any other: the felons. Now STOP that! I know what you thought when I wrote “felons.” Yes I did know, because my reaction used to be exactly the same. If we are going to have an intelligent exploration of this issue, you must first forget your preconceived, television-generated ideas of what a felon is. Here is what the dictionary says: “The Federal government defines a felony as a crime which involves a potential punishment of one year or longer in prison.” That’s it, one year or longer. Are you getting there? You are going to have a hard time from here on if you can’t stop thinking Charles Manson or Jack the Ripper when you hear the word “felon.” That’s a whole different ballgame.

I’ll narrow it down a little more. We are only going to talk about the first-time nonviolent offender. We are going to talk about those like the twenty-something-year-old young lady whose “felony conspiracy” charge in a marijuana case was so far removed from the real crime that her punishment was twelve months probation. Remember, it only takes twelve months to constitute a felony and, believe it or not, probated sentences don’t change a thing. She will still suffer, as do all felons, regardless of magnitude, sentence or degree of involvement, the lifetime stigma of a felony conviction.

Felony Consequences Are Forever
The collateral consequences of a felony conviction are forever, and most Americans, unless they have a dog in the fight, aren’t aware of that fact. And speaking of “dogs,” what about Mike Vick? He is a felon. How many of you thought that he deserved a “second chance?” Seems most of you did, and every pundit from the most liberal on MSNBC to Sean Hannity on Fox thought so too. Try to get them to speak out for the non-celebrity though. Good luck with that.

There are many thousands of people who fit the first-time offender description. How about Martha Stewart? She too is a convicted Federal felon, although I doubt that the collateral consequences will be as rough on her as on the people who don’t happen to have a mega-merchandising company to get them through the hard times. First-time, nonviolent offenders who are no more threat to society than you, yes you, have been suffering for years. Yet nothing is being done to relieve their suffering, and many, because they saw no alternative, are now repeat offenders, and that is a shame.

This is a group of people who have made mistakes, admitted them, and only want a chance to get their lives back. Many of their offenses were 10, 15, 25 or more years ago. They have re-established themselves in their communities, raised families, and achieved higher education. They are your friends, neighbors, Sunday-school teachers, and still they are made to continue the life sentence of a felony conviction. All of these people could be saved from further undeserved punishment so easily that it probably should be a crime that we have not already done so.

If jobs are the answer, what can be done, in addition to the previously mentioned programs, to unbend the system? Since the “system” is a function of government, and government is “We The People,” why don’t “We The People” enact laws that will allow those that are found to be worthy of a second chance the opportunity of getting one?

Here’s an idea. What if a law was passed that would allow first-time, nonviolent offenders a means of clearing their record? People with clean records don’t have a problem finding employment do they? Many states have a means for an ex-offender to apply for expunction of their records, in certain cases. There is nothing of the sort available for Federal offenses.

Under current law, a Federal felony is forever. A Presidential Pardon will not clear the ex-offenders record. There’s a potential new law that would be a simple, cost-effective solution to the problem. In fact the law would cost little to nothing to implement, and has the potential of tremendous savings to the taxpayer. If people are working and staying out of prison, the prison overcrowding and recidivism problems are reduced, the expense of building new facilities will be reduced and on and on. There is little if any downside.

A Solution That Would Work: The Second Chance Act
OK, are we agreed that this solution has possibilities? How then do we get the ball rolling? It’s easy. How is that, you say? Because it has already been done. That’s right, the legislation is already available. What? You say you never heard of it? I am not surprised. This most human and humane legislation has a very interesting history, and the current version is called H.R.1529, the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009.”

Following is a brief synopsis of what this legislation offers:

* * * * * * * *

On March 6, 2009 Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced HR 1529, the Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009, legislation that would permit expungement of records of certain nonviolent criminal offenses. A person would be eligible to apply for expungement only if they fulfill requirements detailed in the legislation, including:

• Never being convicted of a violent offense (including an offense under state law that would be a violent offense if it were federal);
• Never being convicted of a nonviolent offense other than the one for which expungement is sought;
• Fulfilling all requirements of the sentence, including completion of any term of imprisonment or period of probation, meeting all conditions of a supervised release, and paying all fines;
• Remaining free from dependency on or abuse of alcohol or a controlled substance a minimum of one year;
• Obtaining a high school diploma or completion of a high school equivalency program;
• Completing at least one year of community service.

Records Expunged or Sealed: Upon order of expungement, all official law enforcement and court records, including all references to such person’s arrest for the offense, the institution of criminal proceedings against him, and the results thereof, except publicly available court opinions or briefs on appeal, shall be expunged (in the case of non-tangible records) or gathered together and sealed (in the case of tangible records).

Record of Disposition to Be Retained: A nonpublic record of a disposition or conviction that is the subject of an expungement order shall be retained only by the Department of Justice solely for the purpose of use by the courts in any subsequent adjudication.

Reversal of Expunged Records: Directly quoting, “The records expunged under this subchapter shall be restored by operation of law as public records and may be used in all court proceedings if the individual whose conviction was expunged is subsequently convicted of any Federal or State offense.”

* * * * * * *

That is the short version, and the key concept in the entire bill is that the bill does not grant expungement; it only gives the ex-offender the opportunity to make application for expungement. This reality negates the arguments of all who oppose this legislation. The applicant must appear before the original sentencing court where his/her application will be considered. A fail safe mechanism is also built in. Should a person be so stupid as to re-offend, all bets are off and their record is unsealed. I urge you to read the entire text of this legislation. You may go to the Library of Congress website/Thomas to read the current version as well as all previous versions. You may also see each version’s co-sponsors. Please look them up. Then ask yourself and them, “Why are you not supporting this legislation?”

Congress Failing the People
In the year 2000, on October 10, near the end of the legislative session, Charles Rangel introduced to the 106th Congress a bill, H.R.5433 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2000.” At this first introduction, the bill had no co-sponsors, was assigned to the Subcommittee on Crime and died there. On Feb 14, 2001 Congressman Rangel reintroduced the bill to the 107th Congress as H.R.696 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2001,” with twelve co-sponsors. The bill died in subcommittee. March 3, 2003 he reintroduced it to the 108th Congress as H.R.1434 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2003,” with thirty three cosponsors. The bill died in subcommittee, but progress was being made as the subcommittee got a new name. It is now the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
charlie-rangel-d-ny.jpg
On February 8, 2005 Old Charlie is nothing if not persistent, and he once again introduced the bill to the 109th Congress as H.R.662 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2005,” with twenty seven co-sponsors, and the result, yep, died in subcommittee. Are you seeing a trend here? Never-say-die Charlie on January 22, 2007 introduced the legislation again to the 110th Congress as H.R. 623 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2007,” with seventeen co-sponsors. Support seems to be fading and the result is the same. Dead in subcommittee. That brings us to the current 111th Congress, and true to form on March 16, 2009, the legislation is introduced once again as H.R.1529 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009.”

As of this writing there are no co-sponsors, and there have been no efforts by Rep. Rangel that can be found to solicit support. No one is willing to tell supporters why he has apparently abandoned support of this legislation. Could it be that the opposing lobbyists have made headway?

Supporters of the legislation have written countless letters, sent faxes, e-mail, made phone calls to Congressman Rangel, and to all of the members of the full Judiciary Committee, chaired by Congressman John Conyers, and to every member of the Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Congressman Bobby Scott, seeking information and asking that the bill be moved forward. There has robert-scott-d-va.jpgbeen virtually no response other than the “canned non-response” response that is the norm when contacting anyone in Congress. One supporter has made three trips to Congressman Rangel’s Office seeking information, and was stonewalled each time. The most frustrating thing about attempting to contact members of Congress is that many will not accept contact from outside their own district. They make laws that impact all of us, but really don’t want to talk to any of us.

How You Can Help
Why is the system failing. Simple. There are opponents to the demise of recidivism, the lobbyists for the businesses and organizations that feed on incarceration. So what can you do about this situation. Add your voice. Join our support group.

Supporters also have three petition sites Criminal Justice.Change.Org, Petition2Congress, and Care2Petition Site, that have, at last count, more than 1700 signatures that have generated more than 3000 letters of support to members of Congress and the President. So far, we have been ignored.

So, where are we? What about this legislation that has so much potential for good? It is about to meet the same fate as all of its predecessors. It is about to die in committee and that is a travesty.

It seems to me that we have one group of leaders who stand up, look us in the eye, and say “I’m tough on crime; we can’t support anything like this” and do nothing to relieve the long-suffering ex-offenders and taxpayers. On the other hand we have others who introduce legislation and then allow it to die, conduct hearing after hearing from which nothing of value issues, call for study after study when previous studies such as “Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress” by the 2009 Criminal Justice Coalition, are ignored. Witness the call for a “Blue Ribbon Study Panel” by Senator Jim Webb. I support Sen. Webb’s initiative but his bill only establishes a commission to “study” the problems for eighteen months. How much longer then until any meaningful legislation is enacted? Relief is needed and available now if congressmen will act. While they all claim to have our interest at heart, I submit that their main concern is getting re-elected and retaining their power. Listen closely as all of them say, “Just send me back one more time, and surely we will get it done “next time.” Is H.R 1529 an example of “Next Time?” Eight years, six versions, no relief? People can’t get jobs, and are tired of waiting for “Next Time.”

I have to ask, when is it going to be “This Time?”

The author of this commentary, Thomas Kinney, is a 65-year-old retired telecommunications engineer living in Albany, GA. Mr. Kinney practices what he preaches, having written letters to every member of the House Judiciary Committee, as well as every member of the Subcommittee charged with H.R.1529. As a concerned citizen, he has immersed himself in the intricacies of the Federal legislative process and judicial system, and has clearly become “fit to be tied” by the failures of these systems. His mission is to bring people from all across the spectrum of our society together, and get them to understand just what the Slammer article, “It’s the Jobs, Stupid” really brings to light: ex-offenders must be able to get a job, or the recidivism revolving door will never stop turning. More and more prisons will have to be built, overcrowding will get worse, and judges will continually be forced to order the untimely release of more undeserving inmates. Kudos to Thomas Kinney for his efforts. – ED.


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Comments

  • StopTalkingStartActing said:

    Mr. Kinney,

    Your work on this matter is superb. Have you considered contacting Tony Dungey, former head coach of the Indianapolic Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is a man of faith who puts his name and reputation where his faith is, and sticks his kneck out for people, whom he feels deserve a second chance. He did it for Michael Vick, and he did it for Lagarette Blount, the UO football player who punched a Boise State player after the game on live television and was supspended for the season.

  • Debbie said:

    My boy’s are first time drug offenders. Please! They deserve a second chance. They need to be at home with thier familys. We don’t have a man in our homes to help us. These guy’s deserve a break, Won’t someone out there help us? We’ve spent every penny we had. We have 12 children in the home. I work part-time and my daughter-inlaw work’s full-time. We need for my boy’s to come home. Please. Thank You Debra G Rhodes

  • Carl F. Petty said:

    I am a former prosecutor. Non-violent offenders desererve a second chance. These second chances need to be mandatory as the the truly discretionary “diversion” ststutes are not fairly applied by the courts. Usually only the wealthy and the ones with clout can get this kind of consideration. Those inside the system are in favor of this. Only a fool or someone who has lead and has always led a perfect life opposes this type of legislation.
    Carl F. Petty

  • Shane said:

    First time, non-violent offenders only? Why? You know, there are others in the country who are not non-violent, first time offenders who have been in trouble for a very long time, who also need jobs. As an example, I myself, am an ex-felon who has not been in trouble in almost 11 years, I pay my taxes, and I obey the law. I am a good law abiding citizen, I am a Certified Production Technician, a Certified CNC Mill Operator, a Certified CNC Turning Operator, a really good Welder, and still, I cannot find meaningful employment. What about legislation to altogether remove that question on applications “Have you ever been convicted of a felony”, or Make it law that it be changed to “Have you been convicted of a felony in the last 5 years”, or 7, or 10, whatever. But do something. I mean, I am not a violent person, so why should I, or ANYONE for that matter, who has not been in trouble for a long time, be subjected to ‘Well, if I lie on the app, and they hire me, then do a background check, I wont have a job. But if I tell the truth about it on the app, I wont have a job’? Why should we have to live with that in our heads, whether or not to put it on the application? I mean, it’s bogus. I feel trapped, like I am serving a LIFE sentence, even though I already did my time, and paid my debt to society, and haven’t been in trouble in over 10 years. And now, with the economy the way it is, it is even worse. I mean, So I made some mistakes when I was young. I was was a dumb kid. I mean who doesn’t make mistakes when they are young. The only difference between those like me, and those who are not ex-felons is that I got caught, and they didn’t. Someone please do something about this. We need reform NOW! Not 30 or 40 years in the future, because by then, it will be too late.

  • quintin said:

    I am 46yr old blk male,Born and raise in bronx NY.from the age of 18 i have been bk and forth to jail and prison.My last conviction was 1996 was released in 1998.It is now 2010,im still going through background checks,praying to God i pass background check.I am married with 5 daughters and seven grands,None of my grandskids fathers are not in there life,the only man in there life they know is me,They call me papa.Im struggling to make ends meet.Im tired of dead end jobs with no insurance or benefits.I have skills in janitorial and construction. Most companies do background checks.I was recently laid off, and im having the roughest time finding employment.So i decided to get a degree in college online,That didnt work,because at the time we lived a two bedroom apt with 4 grands and 3 daughters and my wife,Its rough,what keeps me going is prayer.All my convictions are drug related,Had a major drug problem.Im clean now ,but im still having problms financially.Should i go back to what i know,Its tempting,I cant see my self behind somebodies 4 walls again,So the only thing i have to trust in the lord.Idont know what else to say,What can a brother do, Ijust want to be the provider for my family.Its been 12yrs sine been incarcerated. You know whats funny, I got in trouble in 1992 , U ntil this day its still on my record, Thats 17yrs ago lol.So i pray for everybody whose going through.I CAN WRITE ALL NITE BUT I THINK YOULL UNDERSTANDD WHERE IM COMING FROM. gOD bless

  • Debra said:

    I have a first offender charge of 1st degree forgery on my record 1993. My current employer is a school system which will be doing a extensive history background check on me in 2011. They do this every five years but this year it is more extended. My bosses son has been told along with all the employees within our department the first time mine was done in 2006 that I have been arrested and I think this violates my rights. Also these are good old boys that wan’t nepotism to continue and me out of the way so anything that goes wrong within our department I am blamed for it. I am very affraid but there is no one I can go to you see it is corrupt all the way to the top. What should I do , I don’t want to go to jail for something I haven’t done I haven’t even got a traffic ticket in the last seventeen yu

  • ANGEL GALLARDO said:

    I have a court date on march 2nd for a drug charge but I havent done my drug program and the judge wants to see a progress report, whhat should i do?

  • Chavalia Mcneil said:

    I am a first time non-violent offender, and its is hell out here trying to find a job. i actually got hired for two jobs in one month but once my background check came back i wa denied thr jobs. Its hurting me pretty bad considering the fact that i have a four month old daughter to take care of. I actually qualify all the way to have my record sealed and expunged. I was sentenced to three years in state prison, only eneded up doing six months not including county jail time, went to a boot-camp/prison program, grauduated at the top of my class, was put on two year probation and only did a few months because i paid off all of debts. Graduated high school with a 3.7 cum lade. Enrolled in college the following year and got recruited to play college basketball, i mean my list goes on an on. Im actually in the process of getting my record expunged but the company im going thru i feel like they are jus taking my money. if anybody can help me please email me at chavaliamcneil@aol.com thx

  • carletta alston said:

    My name is Carletta Alston and I am writing you in hopes that you can help me in continuing to get my life back together, and also helping me help others to believe that they can get through the deepest struggle. I was falsely accused of first-degree murder in June of 2009 and I spent a year in jail. After my release my record was been dismissed and expunged and since my release News and Observer, Wral 5, and Abc11 has assisted me in fixing my reputation. I reached out to gov. bev Perdue but, she told me that because I was never convicted that I was not able to seek compensation of my time I was held in jail. I don’t understand this because I was taken away from my family for 364 days. I lost my job and my license along with other things. I still am not able to find a job and I am struggling everyday to make it. I have written a book expressing my thoughts and emotions through poems call County Life: Expressions of An Innocent Soul Part 1. I have also created a group on Face Book called Expressions Of An Innocent Soul. I am seeking your help because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I want to in courage other that there is a way even when you think there isn’t. I hope you put yourself in my shoes and are willing to help me continue to fight for Innocent Souls across the world.

  • Nelson Rice said:

    Help, I have a first time felony charge for a 20 dollar bag of meth that was put on me from the los
    Angelos poleace department in 2007. I need to get it expunged or compleatly off my record, I havent ben in any criminole incidence sense. My probation’s ben over but I havent ben able to pay the probation fee’s do it being hard to fined a steady job know, please I really need sum help. God bless and thank you for your time (334) 707-5933 email me at Akinu20@yahoo.com thank you.

  • Mary said:

    My 20 yr old grandson gave 2 boys a ride, one offered to give him gas money if he’d take them to pick up his play station 3 at a friends house. We’ve told him to be careful of who he associates with, but he’ll give anyone a ride, and even let others drive his car. The boys went in the house through the front door, picked up a ps3 and came back out. I don’t know at what point my grandson found out they’d stolen the ps3 but he put them out of his car. 2 days later the police comes looking for my grandson. They came to his dad’s house and to his work. He was off that day, but a friend from work called his mother. She called him and arranged to pick him up and take him to the jail to find out why the cops were searching for him. They arrested him for assecory to a crime. The detective that questioned him told my daughter that they believed his story but it didn’t match with the others involved. He has to go to court in a month and is scared he’ll have to
    go to jail. He’s always been a good Christain boy and was raised in a christian home. We believe what he’s telling us. Of course they’ll get an attorney but we’re concerned how this will affect his future. Any advise?

  • jerry said:

    Dear Sir/Madam:

    Thank you once again for the opportunity to provide you with information on the Ex-Offenders grass roots program. We know that you will enjoy our immediate concerns as we work towards helping ex-offenders develop, both, professional and personal success in returning to and maintaining a position of prominence and responsibility in their communities.We hope that you will consider becoming a part of our positive movement. The Ex-Offender Re-entry Into Society Program will have a strong presence, throughout our Communities.

    Would you be williling to provide any information on any organizations that would be willing to donate clothing and shoes, old homes (we will repair), computers,old vehicles,can goods ect? We are currently collecting merchandise and services for our program participants and I’m writing to request your support. Our mission is to provide quality, community- based housing and employment for ex-offenders coming directly out of prison?

    Sincely,

    Jerry

    Ex-Offenders Re-Entry Into Society
    http://www.ex-offendersre-entryintosociety.com
    exoprogram@gmail.com

  • Don said:

    To everyone who has been convicted of a felony, or high misdemeanor, iam in the process of forming a national coalition to get legislation passed to give those people a chance at life again. Remember power is in numbers! Let’s get it done people! More info call 313-728-8765 Ron

  • Teena said:

    H.R. 3014 (ih) - Fresh Start Act of 2013….this was just introduced August 2nd….what can we do to help …please answer

  • t .russ said:

    No one in our family has ever been in trouble. But recently my son used his phone to talk to a child and agreed to meet.He went to the meeting but changed his mind and started to leave but was arrested. The grand jury took the case . We went to court to have him released but the judge putlots of demands on him . He is on house arrest all computers or cell phones are taken from his house,we paid an attorney $15,000 to go to bat for him.In the meantime he cannot go to work because he is working with computers and in school needing only a few months to finish.thelawyer is trying to talk to the prosecutor to have it put back in the district . He is waiting for her to call.This happened in july and he has done everything he is told.we feel like this is his first offence and he should be released.He is going stir crazy waiting. Now his attorney is on vacation for a month.what can we do except wait. Is it possible the judge will take away his restrictions. He is not going anywhere.What do we do to help. We have a 30 year criminal attorney coming recommended.

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