The current justice system is (currently) broken.
The rate of recidivism in the US is roughly 50%, a recent study suggested that 1 in 25 people sentenced to death are actually innocent, and the environment people are released into almost assures that criminal activity is the only way they can survive.
A few years ago, in Midnight Run: Debt, we looked at the idea of felons, misdemeanors, and the rights of those convicted of either. Since then, we have updated Debt periodically. All of which points to a growing trend of attempting to reintegrate people back into society after a long jail/prison sentence as opposed to releasing people into a world where they have no chance at rebuilding their lives:
This week, we update all of Debt. A full recap of everything that has happened since on the Midnight Run, the latest on legislative criminal justice reform, and the trend towards being (at least slightly) more forgiving.
1.) My stance. In October of last year, CJ Grhisam posted an excellent piece on why people should support felons owning firearms. In it, he lays out the very simple premise that someone who is too violent to be allowed to own a firearm should not be released, and those who are released should have their rights restored. (Grisham has said quite regularly that he doesn’t really support any restrictions on gun ownership for people out of prison. If they can’t be trusted with a gun, they shouldn’t be out.)
The truth is, I tend to agree with everything in CJ’s article. The fact that recidivism is so high in this country points to 2 problems. The first is that, by definition, the penal system is releasing people who will be back (and, therefore, should never have been released to begin with). The second is that, as he notes, one of the reasons for recidivism is “because these people can’t get real jobs with convictions, even if it was an honest lapse of judgment that taught them a lesson. Once someone has paid to debt to society, as dictated by legally and strictly applied punishment, they should have the ability to reintegrate. If these people can’t get jobs, their only recourse is going back to a life of crime just to be able to meet their needs of survival or they become addicted to drugs to help them cope and become a drain on society.”
As we have discussed numerous times before, supporting a person’s rights is not the same as supporting their actions. It is no different than supporting someone’s right to speak, while disagreeing with what they say.
(Put more bluntly, it is insane to support people committing crimes. No sane person believes that murder, assault, etc. should not be punished. It is NOT, however, insane to discuss the rights of the accused; such as the right to a fair trial. Nor is it insane to discuss the rights of the convicted, particularly after the sentence is complete, what we liked to call “paying your debt to society.”)
Unlike in Debt, the Run no longer agrees with the concept that permanent bans are even somewhat legitimate. If a person is not given the chance to re-enter society, nobody should be surprised when the person decides to exploit it instead. If a person is too violent to be released, then doing so anyway by definition A.) releases someone who is believed to be violent (defeating the purpose of a correctional system) and B.) releases someone virtually everybody is sure will be back in prison within a half-decade.
Knowing this, it is absurd to release a person and restrict their right to own a firearm. If they do attempt to turn their life around, all that is accomplished is a method of self-defense is restricted. If they don’t, then all that is accomplished is another law for the individual to completely ignore as he/she returns to criminal activity. (To say nothing of the fact that the prison system, at that point, had done little more than release a person who never should have been out to begin with.)
The restriction is supported with the idea that, legally, the person doesn’t have access to a “more lethal” weapon. The problem there is that it, too, is a tacit admission that the person still has access to a number of other lethal items and an admission that the person cannot be trusted. (We discussed in Dirt and Blood that any weapon can be lethal, in what Massad Ayoob calls the “The Dangerous Myth of Hierarchy of Lethality.) The idea of telling someone that they are safe from an individual because that person is barred from owning a single weapon is dishonest, bordering on evil.
It is completely asinine to hold someone to an event that all evidence shows they are trying to move on from. It may be popular on an emotional level but going against evidence is never appropriate on a rational and logical one.
If someone is making an honest effort to change who they are, there is no reason to hold that against them apart from self-righteous moralizing. We like to claim that we believe in “second chances” yet apparently do everything in our power to make damn sure nobody gets one.
2.) Previously. First, let us go through a few of the incremental updates to Debt from previous Midnight Run updates.
We’ll start in January of this year in Arizona. A man saves an AZ Dept. of Public Safety trooper by shooting a man who was attacking the trooper. It soon came to light that the man, Thomas Yoxall, was a former felon who had his gun rights restored. Bearing Arms notes that
This non-violent felon who petitioned to have his rights restored showed that America is forever a land of second chances, and that heroes can come from anywhere, and anyone.
Active Response Training’s Greg Ellifritz also had an excellent piece about the man on his Facebook.
In April, Nebraska and a few other states found an interesting way to slow the cycle of reincarceration: giving food stamps to drug offenders. The logic being A.) that a lot of those convicted simply cannot survive because of their convictions and B.) that prisons are overcrowded as it is, and they should really be reserved for the most violent in society.
Also in April, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe unilaterally restored voting rights to about 206,000 former felons. Republicans said this was largely an effort to help Clinton, however McAullife positioned it as dealing with Virginia’s “long and sad history” of suppressing African-American voters.
(It is worth noting that Clinton took Virginia 49.8% to Trump’s 44.4%)
Finally, in August, The Oregonian did a great article on Dave’s Killer Bread, a company launched by a former felon with the explicit purpose of giving former convicts a job and, therefore, a way back into society. The company has become an ardent advocate of what it calls “Second Chance employment,” launching a foundation in the company’s name to spread that message. On it’s website, the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation writes that “Dave’s Killer Bread leadership began to realize that there is a critical missing piece in the complex puzzle that underlies successful reentry after a person completes a jail or prison sentence…businesses willing to employ them.”
(As an aside, in a remarkable display of transparency, the company has let some of the employees tell their stories. Some of them have extensive criminal records, some of them violent. It makes for some fascinating reading.)