Currently, in the State of Illinois, a citizen who has been convicted of a felony is barred from obtaining dozens of different types of employment licenses. A felon can often work under someone who has the license, but they cannot be the licenses holder. Such as in roofing, a felon cannot be a licensed roofer, but they can be a laborer for a roofer.
This blockage to success seriously affects the earning capability of anyone who has been convicted of a felony for life. In Illinois, that means that hundreds of thousands of people cannot obtain professional licenses to work. That also means that the families of these felons are forced into a lower class and suffer potential poverty. This is a punishment on children who have done nothing wrong. We claim to want to lift families out of poverty, but we have these laws that keep them there. When we take into account that the majority of felons in Illinois are of a minority status; how can we claim to help the disadvantaged, while having laws that bar them from business opportunities?
In my opinion, these laws are violations of the Constitution, and the concepts of Liberty. Do we really believe in punishing people for life based upon crimes that we would never give them a life sentence for? The fact is that issuing licenses is an administrative task; likewise denying a license is an administrative act. It is a means of punishing people that circumvents Constitutional protections, and due process. A person is to be considered innocent till proven guilty in a court of law. By denying them a license based upon some past conduct, is to judge them guilty of doing potential crimes, in the distant future. This punishment denies real due process, and the presumption of innocence.
Felons have served their time. The sentence for their crime carried a certain level of punishment that the citizen was convicted of or plead guilty to. That includes, time in prison, fines, restitution, and probation or parole. Along with other types of conditions that are designed to help the person succeed, such as counseling, drug testing, classes, employment, staying away from certain people, among others. But, all of these have a light at the end of the tunnel. Denying licenses for employment keeps them in poverty for life or very long periods. It can push them to break the law in order to get ahead or make ends meet. When does the punishment end? Laws have been passed recently that allow some of these licenses to be obtained with a waiver, or are only restricted for a period of time, but many others do not, and employers still do background checks.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not talking about giving a license to open a daycare to a sex offender, we can have some common sense restrictions. I’m talking about denying all licenses to all felons for life. The list of licenses denied felons is lengthy. Currently dozens of jobs are barred for felons. And we are not just talking about the guy who got out of prison last week. We are talking about people who have broken the law decades ago, and are still treated as criminals. They are barred from having a license to be a roofer, hair dresser, meat cutter, nurse, cna, realtor, embalmer, funeral director, nail tech, and the list goes on and on.
Now, understand that it’s not just Illinois, but other states as well. What does this do to our crime rate? That’s the focus of this article. Does denying people licenses, cause them to remain in a state of poverty that leads them to a life that leads to criminal acts? Does it cause them to feel hopeless and use drugs? Does the use of drugs lead to crime? Does addiction lead to theft and more violence? Do desperate people commit crimes? Do people with no hope care about your society? Do these laws push people into crime? How does this affect the recidivism rate?
Of course, there will be those who blame the criminal, and say that there is no excuse. And yes, we can say those things from our ivory towers. Yes. The criminal is guilty, but we deceive ourselves if we think that there are not many factors that lead to crime. I’m not just talking about the guy who robs 20 liquor stores, and kills a clerk. I’m talking about the college kid who has a future, and gets drunk, and commits a crime. I’m talking about the father who has a beer after work, and accidentally runs over a construction worker. There are tons of people around us every day that committed a crime years ago, and have never crossed that line again. Yet, they are still treated as failed.
And to those folks who say “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Your cruelty and desire to never show mercy are reasons why folks fall off the edge and hurt others or commit crimes. Criminals are a reflection of society. You have a society full of people addicted to drugs, because they want to escape their misery and slavery. You have people who feel the need to steal because their basic needs are lacking, and they are surrounded by grotesque amounts of wealth, and pressure to succeed. You have people doing violent things, because they have no means of resolving problems. You have people living in a cycle of poverty and crime because the system is designed to keep us down.
It is past time to start helping citizens instead of putting road blocks in front of them. If the government cannot help them, then they need to get out of the way. If the church will not help them, then they need to stop throwing stones. Felons are not going to just disappear. The poor will be with you always, and will not go away. They will sleep outside your golden gates, while you feast. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. We can love them, forgive them, and allow them and their families to have real chances to succeed. At the very least, our system should no longer be something that can be blamed for a person’s failure. We should strive to be above reproach, and then the blame can truly only fall on the individual.