I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the mechanics of expungement in Kentucky, and how it might end up working, but I don’t think I’ve addressed some of the fundamental reasons that expungement is so important right now. While convicted felons and their loved ones are well aware of the crippling effect that a felony record can have on a persons job prospect, many people still don’t understand.
“Go get a job at McDonald’s,” some would reply. But McDonald’s isn’t necessarily taking felons. Especially not in the tough labor market we have been in since the financial crisis. And higher paying jobs are almost certainly out of the question. According to a 2013 article in the Nation, former felons are banned from more than 800 occupations because of laws and licensing rules. Ninety-two percent of employers now run background checks. Because of the potential for being sued for negligent hiring, many business owners who would otherwise be willing to take a chance on hiring a felon chose not to, due to the risk of a law suit.
And the effect of these policies have a staggeringly racial disproportionate effect in minority communities. While only one in thirteen Americans has a felony record, the Department of Justice has projected that a third of black men and one fifth of Latino men born in 2001 will go to prison at some point in their life. Destroying the ability of someone to get a job because of a mistake they made when they were young, and doing so in a staggeringly racially disproportionate amount is a recipe for disaster.
We can do better. And a good start is erasing those mistakes, from those records, where people have shown that they can change. By bringing former felons back into the workforce, we can lower recidivism, and take baby steps toward correcting just one of the many racial injustices in our society.