A while back, my local Unitarian Universalist Society, which has an interest in social justice, offered a course in what felons face here in the United States after leaving prison. I took the course, and that got me interested in the general topic.
Mass media can make the world of criminality seem appealing … fast-paced, even glamorous. Because criminal acts are featured so often on the news, on nightly TV, and at the movies, people are led to believe that criminality is a normal, ordinary choice of lifestyle. This notion that crime is popular and ordinary … that it has entertainment value … is one way in which mass media today insidiously undermine the social fabric of America.
In this blog, I’ll offer a brief summary of the facts regarding felony conviction. My hope is that this will help everyone understand the very severe consequences of having a felony on one’s record. Here are the blog subheadings:
- What Is a Felony?
- What Are the Personal Consequences of a Felony Conviction in the United States?
- Expungement of a Felony Conviction
- Towards a Vision of a Crime-Free America
- Education of Young People
- Future Treatment of Felons
- Sweeping Changes in the Tenor of Mass Media
WHAT IS A FELONY?
Felonies include but are not limited to the following:
- “Aggravated assault and/or battery
- “Manslaughter (unintentional Murder)
- “Animal cruelty
- “Vehicular homicide
- “Tax evasion
- “Various forms of fraud
- “The manufacture, sale, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute of certain types and/or quantities of illegal drugs
- “In some states, the simple possession (possession without intent to distribute, e.g., for personal use) of certain types of illegal drugs, usually in more than a certain quantity but regardless of quantity for some drugs in some jurisdictions (such as Virginia for cocaine and heroin)
- “Grand larceny or grand theft, i.e., larceny or theft above a certain statutorily established value or quantity of goods
- “Vandalism on federal property.
- “Obstruction of justice
- “Cheque fraud
- “Copyright infringement
- “Child pornography
- “Mail and wire fraud
- “Violating parole, probation, or recognizance bond
- “Threatening an official (police officer, judge)” (1)
WHAT ARE THE PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES OF A FELONY CONVICTION IN THE UNITED STATES?
“In many parts of the United States, a felon can face long-term legal consequences persisting after the end of their imprisonment. The status and designation as a ‘felon’ is considered permanent, and is not extinguished upon sentence completion even if parole, probation or early release was given. The status can be cleared only by a successful appeal or executive clemency. However, felons may apply for restoration of some rights after a certain period of time has passed.
“The consequences felons face in most states include:
- “Disenfranchisement (expressly permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment, as noted by the Supreme Court)
- “Exclusion from obtaining certain licenses, such as a visa, or professional licenses required to legally operate (making some vocations off-limits to felons)
- “Exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition, and body armor
- “Ineligibility to serve on a jury
- “Ineligibility for government assistance or welfare, including being barred from federally funded housing
- “Deportation (if not a citizen)
“Additionally, many job applications and rental applications ask about felony history (with the exception of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) and answering dishonestly on them can be grounds for rejecting the application, or termination if the lie is discovered after hire. This is because most bonding companies do not issue bonds to felons, which effectively bars them from certain jobs. Additionally, most landlords do not rent to felons due to the risk of legal liability if the renter commits another crime.
“It is legal to discriminate against felons in hiring decisions as well as the decision to rent housing to a person, so felons can face barriers to finding both jobs and housing. A common term of parole is to avoid associating with other felons. In some neighborhoods with high rates of felony conviction, this creates a situation where many felons live with a constant threat of being arrested for violating parole. Many banks refuse service to felons, and some states consider a felony conviction grounds for an uncontested divorce.
“In some states, restoration of those rights depends on repayment of various fees associated with the felon’s arrest, processing, and prison stay, such as restitution to victims, or outstanding fines.” (1)
“For state law convictions, expungement is determined by the law of the state. Many states do not allow expungement, regardless of the offense, though felons can seek pardons and clemency, including restoration of rights.
“Federal law does not have any provisions for persons convicted of federal felonies in a federal United States district court to apply to have their record expunged. While the pending Second Chance Act[dated info] would change this if enacted, at present the only relief that an individual prosecuted in federal court may receive is a Presidential Pardon, which does not expunge the conviction, but rather grants relief from the civil disabilities that stem from it.” (1)
TOWARDS A VISION OF A CRIME-FREE AMERICA
Education of Young People. I feel that the future holds promise of change in the education of the young regarding social norms and societal expectations, and that this change will support the beginnings of a crime-free America. I place my hopes on schools offering our children these opportunities:
- study of the Declaration of Independence,
- discussion of the United States Constitution, and
- information regarding how the rights of felons are curtailed here in the United States, so that they will understand the consequences of the criminal acts so popularly glamorized in the mass media
Future Treatment of Felons. I also feel that the future holds promise of many changes in treatment of those convicted of felony. For instance:
- I foresee job education and work parole programs for felons serving time. This trend, which looks quite promising, has already begun here in the United States
- For released felons, I see a trend toward rehabilitation into the mainstream, with a chance to be reunited with their families, even if their families are in public housing. Laws to the contrary very clearly contribute to the degradation of the American family-oriented social values.
- I also feel that more job programs will be developed to help felons find good work that helps them develop and reinforce mainstream social values.
- Depriving felons of socialized medical care serves no purpose; if they need medical care and can’t find law-abiding work, then they will be driven to a life of crime, such as burglary or robbery, in order to pay for medicines. Thus it serves society well to allow felons as much access to socialized medical care as is available to those with no criminal record.
Sweeping Changes in the Tenor of Mass Media. Regarding mass media, I foresee:
- a global coming to consciousness regarding the hurtful aspects of mass media today, which emphasizes violence and glamorizes crime
- a broad swath of the world population consciously choosing more uplifting entertainment programming that supports their vision of the world of tomorrow
- I further see many people choosing mass media that create in the viewer the emotions of appreciation, gratitude, joy, and peace, rather than the emotions of fear, anger, rage, and hatred. I see folks choosing these as a way of co-creating the new reality on Earth. It is, after all, the strength and flavor of our emotions that shapes the future of Earth’s nations.
In love, light and joy,
I Am of the Stars
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