Here Are Some Alternatives to Incarceration That Have Worked
Paul Larkin

There is a political hot potato that far too few in Washington are willing to confront. That would be the nearly 1 in 4 Americans with some form of criminal record in this country. There are a number of amazingly talented and intelligent people who have been convicted of minor crime(s); at some point in their lives. But people change- this I know! We should create a system that rewards those who actually get their act together and better themselves- and prove it; REAL change that can be seen and measured. But not all will accept the challenge and not all will be able to make the changes necessary to attain the prize- but this is what separates the man from the boy; the woman from the girl. Give them something to aim for; give them HOPE. And only the best, most serious, will rise to the challenge. Not everyone that has been arrested and convicted of a crime is a malicious, sadistic, immoral individual. I have a couple of old misdemeanors; from many years ago (alcoholism was a central component of the problem). I have since changed my life exponentially. I have remained sober for some years now, went on to attain an NSF- STEM science scholarship (w/ honors- at 43 years old), volunteered for numerous environmental projects- as that is my passion, and haven’t gotten so much as a parking ticket in 10 years. The primary reason that I went back to school is because I wanted to address environmental concerns. I also felt, for a minute, that I had a better chance of being hired if I worked with animals and outdoors; but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have worked very hard, not only to improve myself, for myself, but to have an improved quality of life- a life that I had worked very hard to attain. Were my efforts to become a better person, and pursue the “American Dream”, a waste of my time, money, and genuine efforts? When one takes the time to consider all of the factors, one can only conclude that continuing to block American citizens from obtaining gainful employment is WRONG.

There are a lot of reasons why this scarlet letter branding is not only wrong but discriminatory. #1: everyone is capable of making mistakes, and often do; however, not everyone is held to the same level of accountability. #2: the unwillingness to hire this 25% of the population has more to do with ‘unsubstantiated’ potential liability than a reward system for being good. #3: some felonies are being expunged and minimized, while some misdemeanors are being excessively vilified; though the law, and its validity, is based on the idea of ‘intent.’ #4: there are many alcohol related crimes that don’t speak to intent. #5: an overburdened public defenders office and overzealous prosecutors office creates the perfect storm for unethical plea bargaining (minimizing serious crimes, but also denying justice to those that take a plea at the suggestion of their public defender- who might actually be innocent). #6: most of the media subjects of late, responsible for school/theater/random shootings did NOT have a previous criminal record. #7: there is no statistical significance that suggests that those who have old petty convictions are any more likely to commit future crimes than, say, someone who doesn’t have a record. #8: when a person is convicted of a crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, their lives- if they ever cared much about their future- changes forever. Many of the dreams that they may have had are over. Not to mention the state sanctioned punishment that goes with a conviction. There is also the stigma from family and friends. We have all (most of us) broken the law at some point in our lives- whether intentionally or not. In most cases, these particular situations weren’t the result of people going crazy and flipping out; most people were living their lives and encountering their own set of frustrations and learning to deal with them. This discontinuity, or outright injustice, of our judicial system has galvanized this country; and surely you must notice. People of all ‘groups’ are affected by this judicial incongruence; and it serves to divide this country even more than it already is. When mistakes are vilified and true criminality is minimized, the stage is set for social unrest. And this country seems pretty unhappy to me; and to anyone paying attention.

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