Target: Barack Obama, President of the United States
Goal: Give individuals with criminal records a second chance to enact their rights of citizenship
People with criminal records often endure severe discrimination for their entire lives. At least 65 million people in the United States, or one in four adults, fall under this category. After being convicted and serving out their punishment these individuals can face mandatory penalties that prevent them from enjoying even the most basic rights of citizenship.
Many laws restrict criminals’ voting privileges and ability to obtain business or professional licensing. Others can play a role in a person’s immigration status, parental rights, credit rating and eligibility for benefits, according to an editorial in The New York Times. While public safety must undoubtedly take priority–persons convicted of pedophilia should not be able to work in schools, for example–the reality is that most so-called “collateral consequences” have no relation to public safety.
Due to these punitive restrictions people often struggle to find housing and employment, two actions known to reduce repeat offenses. Thus the more than 45,000 laws and rules governing post-conviction become not only damaging but also counterproductive. In fact, such laws can impose penalties on people regardless of the severity of their offenses or their individual circumstances. Still graver is the fact that the burden of these penalties falls disproportionately on minorities.
Call for an end to the discrimination of reformed criminals. Demand respect for these individuals, who having born the weight of their actions should not be shamed forever.
Dear President Obama,
I am writing in regard to the roughly 45,000 laws preventing some Americans with criminal records from enacting their basic rights of citizenship. Affecting at least 65 million people in the United States, or one in four adults, these laws often go well beyond protecting public safety to restrict both voting privileges and one’s ability to obtain business or professional licensing. Furthermore such laws can prevent people from accessing housing and obtaining jobs, two actions that are well-known to reduce the risk of recidivism according to a recent report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Using your leadership, you can enable these individuals to more fully repay their debts to society. Recognize the need and right these individuals have for respect. Criminals who have committed to turning their lives around should not be shamed and punished forever. I urge you to advocate the repeal of mandatory post-conviction penalties, imposing them only when specific cases warrant them.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Grendelkhan via Wikimedia Commons