Mark Walker of that Sioux Falls paper looks at a Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline report that discusses what states are doing to help ex-offenders get back into the workforce. 70 million Americans have criminal records, which can make it hard for them to get a job. The report notes that seventeen states, including Minnesota, have prohibited employers from asking about criminal history on job applications. Minnesota’s “ban the box” law applies to public and private employers.
Senator Craig Tieszen, a former Rapid City police chief, says South Dakota should consider a “ban the box” law:
“These people should have an opportunity to re-enter the workforce,” Tieszen said. “Obviously, they won’t be automatically hired, but they deserve equal opportunity to re-enter the workforce.”
Tieszen, who recently advocated for legislation to restore ex-convicts’ voting rights, said the state could use a “ban the box” law [Mark Walker, “Should S.D. Ease the Path to a Job for Ex-Cons?” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.06.20].
Representative Reverend Steve Hickey says helping ex-cons get jobs is simple human decency:
Hickey assists ex-convicts through his church in Sioux Falls and also worked on the state’s criminal justice reform.
“We’re just locking people up and shaming them. … It’s a broken system, and South Dakota I think is a good place to experiment with change,” Hickey said. “I believe the best way to help them is to treat them as human beings” [Walker, 2015.06.20].
Pat Powers pops off with law-and-order machismo but not much serious thought of how we save 70 million Americans from permanent economic marginalization. Without evidence, Powers emotionally paints Tieszen and Hickey as felon-lovers and victim-haters:
If some of these guys spent as much time working to ensure crime victims were made whole, and criminals were held to full account for the damage they do to people’s lives, I might be more sympathetic.
But they don’t. They spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make the criminal whole, as opposed to the people whom they might have damaged along the way.
Until victims are restored, criminals should not expect to participate fully in society [Pat Powers, “Legislators Are Back Advocating for Criminals Instead of Victims,” Dakota War College, 2015.06.21].
Powers follows that post with a press release from Governor Daugaard touting his own pro-criminal tribal parole program:
As a part of the pilot program, a tribal wellness team meets regularly to provide support for the parolees in the program. The team includes individuals who work in a number of different areas including mental health, tribal law enforcement, drug and alcohol treatment, housing, and veteran’s affairs [Governor Dennis Daugaard, press release: “Update on the Tribal Pilot Parole Program,” Dakota War College, 2015.06.21].
Powers doesn’t mind the Governor making convicts whole with numerous forms of public assistance, but when a couple of legislators propose a minor reform to help convicts get jobs, Powers cries they are hurting victims.
Actually, in trying to make it easier for ex-cons to support themselves, Senator Tieszen and Rep. Rev. Hickey are talking about one of the best ways to make ex-cons, victims, and society as a whole better off:
For many companies, criminal background checks are a means to determine the safety and security risk a prospective or current employee poses on the job. Yet even the assumption that the existence of a criminal record accurately predicts negative work behavior is subject to some debate; one limited study questions whether the two are, in fact, empirically related. The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety.
Not only is it a matter of public safety to ensure that all workers have job opportunities, but it is also critical for the struggling economy. No healthy economy can sustain such a large and growing population of unemployable workers, especially in those communities already hard hit by joblessness. Indeed, the impact on the economy is staggering. The cost of corrections at each level of government has increased 660 percent from 1982 to 2006, consuming $68 billion a year, and the reduced output of goods and services of people with felonies and prison records is estimated at between $57 and $65 billion in losses [Michelle Natividad Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, “65 Million ‘Need Not Apply’: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment,” National Employment Law Project, March 2011, p. 3].
As Robert Reich says, locking millions of people out of the economy forever wastes human talent. Put ex-cons to work, and they boost themselves and the economy. That’s a surefire way to make everybody whole.