By Charing Ball
Former D.C. mayor Marion Barry will soon be receiving a new assignment from the D.C. Council: lead a panel under which he will have the power to aid ex-felons.
According to published reports, the 74-year-old lawmaker will likely lead the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, which among other things, will give Barry the legislative power to open up employment doors, educational and housing opportunities to persons returning from prison or jail.
Barry, who served as mayor for four terms, wants to use the power of his expected new post to push legislative acts such as the Work Release Act, which would allow parole and corrections officials to release offenders on electronic, home-based monitoring devices; and the Human Rights for Ex-Offender Amendment Act, which would prohibit housing, job and educational authorities from discriminating against applicants who were “previously questioned, apprehended, taken into custody or detention, held for investigation, arrested, charged with, indicted or tried for any felony, misdemeanor, or other offense pursuant to any law enforcement or military authority other than for offenses that are sexually related.”
So is it a good idea to allow Barry to head up a committee that seeks to assist ex-offenders in getting a second chance in society? I don’t see why not, considering that Barry knows first-hand how hard it is for people to redeem themselves in a society that places permanent Scarlett letters on the backs of ex-offenders. Barry himself spent six months in prison in 1990 for cocaine possession and had been indicted in 2005 for two misdemeanor tax charges.
However, unlike Barry, who has been able to recoup (somewhat) from his past, many ex-felons find their chances of full rehabilitation limited by felon exclusionary laws that only seem to work against them. According to a report, many of these lifetime bans that seek to limit ex-felons’ participation in various employment, housing and social services, have had negative affects on an estimated 1 in 19 adults, and more in particularly, 1 in 3 black male adults in the United States.
As it stands, there are more than 9.8 million people held in penal institutions throughout the world, and almost half of these prisoners are in the United States. Currently, the prisons are full and the recidivism rate is somewhere between 65-70%.
Many of these felon exclusion laws aid in the recidivism rate by adding to the increased layer of problems, such as not being able to find employment or access funding for higher education and housing, which not only hurt the individuals, but also the community at large who have to deal with those who have been systematically left without a voice and power.
If the justice system sees fit to let these former offenders back into society than the government should enable them to have most, if not all, of their rights restored. By restricting ex-felons’ access to basic human necessities, it only impedes the successful reentry of individuals attempting to re-establish themselves in their communities. Without proper employment, the right to vote and other things restricted necessities, we are only encouraging ex-offenders to offend again.