On Thursday night, Austin became the first Southern city to pass a Fair Chance Ordinance, which allows formerly incarcerated persons to have a fair chance at finding a job and integrate themselves back into normal life. Austin joins 21 other states, as well as several cities throughout the country, in adopting fair chance hiring practices.
Much of Austin’s homeless population is made up of formerly incarcerated persons, made worse by the fact that third of formerly incarcerated persons do not know where they are going to go upon release. Even those convicted of small crimes have trouble finding a job after being released because of the social and legal stigma associated with incarceration.
People convicted for nonviolent crimes, such as drug abuse, should not be barred from getting a job post release. 18% of people incarcerated for drug abuse were homeless for at least a month after release, which becomes almost inescapable because employers are biased against hiring people with a criminal history.
Although the Fair Chance Ordinance will not solve the problem of homelessness after incarceration, it gives formerly incarcerated people a chance to live healthy lives and constructive members of society.
The Fair Chance Ordinance requires that job applicants will not have to disclose a criminal background until they have been given a conditional job offer. There are, however, exceptions to this rule that require disclosure if the crime was related to the line of work. For example, a person with a criminal record of child molestation looking for a job at a daycare center is not covered under the Fair Chance Ordinance.
Second Chance Democrats, a social justice group of formerly incarcerated people, has pushed for this ordinance, a group of formerly incarcerated people who work towards justice for this community. James P. Atkins, the communications director of Second Chance Democrats, believes that people know it is wrong to discriminate against people with criminal records, but it takes laws to get everyone to do the right thing, he told the Chronicle.
Unfortunately, it is hard to change the rhetoric surrounding formerly incarcerated people, especially when people can say things like “I wouldn’t want to work next to a murderer.” However, the point of incarcerating people is twofold: first, removing offenders from society via rehabilitation or jail time, and second, rehabilitating people and integrating them back into society. In order to make this effective, reintegration must be possible. If laws are what is necessary to get people to do the right thing, then laws must be passed.
Formerly incarcerated persons are people, too, and must be treated as such. If the criminal justice system does not allow people to be reintegrated into society, it is not doing its job. We must not encourage a criminal system that needlessly punishes people for life. People are more than a check mark in a box.
Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, NY. Follow her on Twitter @LeahKashar.