Ex-cons getting set up by state

To the editor:

With each criminal conviction the state of Michigan matter-of-factly tells the defendants how long they will spend behind bars. Hidden from view, in the “fine-print,” is a long list of additional penalties attached to these convictions.

Only upon leaving prison and while attempting to rebuild their lives, do offenders experience, first-hand, how these non-prison “collateral consequences” limit or deny their basic rights to housing, food stamps, education, voting, employment, child custody and much more.

“The stigma of incarceration and disconnection from the workforce,” according to a Council of State Governments report, “are among the challenges people face when trying to find a job after release from prison or jail. People who have been incarcerated earn 40 percent less annually than they had earned prior to incarceration.”

Researchers at the Council of State Governments have prepared a list of 787 separate “collateral consequences” imbedded in Michigan statutes and regulations, including these post-prison penalties.

“Ineligible to drive a school bus.” A mandatory penalty with variable durations for conviction of any felony, controlled substances offenses, crimes of violence and motor vehicle offenses.

“Deny/revoke grain dealer license.” A discretionary penalty with a time-limited duration for conviction of crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering.

Because “One out of five working Americans needs a license to work while one in three American adults has a criminal record,” the Institute for Justice encourages state lawmakers to repeal needless licenses. According to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center’s Restoration of Rights Project, a non-profit organization that tracks legal restrictions on people with a criminal record, Michigan has taken steps to remove employment barriers for ex-offenders.

Conviction alone may not be basis for a licensing authority to find that a person lacks good moral character, but it may be used as evidence in that determination.

Non-conviction records, convictions that did not result in incarceration, and convictions unrelated to the capacity of the applicant to serve the public cannot be considered by licensing agency.

When state legislatures erect legal barriers that make life after prison difficult, if not impossible, they are setting people with a criminal record up for failure-and a trip back to prison.

Ex-offenders have a personal responsibility to make the life-style changes needed to successfully re-enter society. Michigan legislators also have a responsibility to give wrong-doers the opportunity to make these changes and to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

Ronald Fraser

New York, New York