New Expungement Legislation
by Jerry Blassingame
What if someone cut off your legs? Well, that would be challenging. It would be difficult to move in ways that you are accustomed to moving. We don’t realize how important being mobile is until our mobility is taken away. Most privileged people take our economic mobility, the ability to improve our financial status, for granted. When that ability is taken away, it affects not only our family but also the community we live in.
Even though a job is the most critical factor in economic mobility, the laws in the United States do not foster an environment for economic success. Society complains about low-income people living in subsidized housing when most are handcuffed in poverty with no keys to economic mobility. While most Americans are born into certain income levels, they have the opportunity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and climb the socioeconomic ladder. Our criminal justice system is designed to take these bootstraps. Once you are criminally convicted, unless you are privileged, you remain stuck at a certain level for life. The dreaded Scarlet Letter.
We are thankful for the expansion of the new expungement legislation in South Carolina. This new bill is only the start, however, and we still have more to accomplish on this front. As I mentioned earlier, we need to employ those who are returning home from prison and those with criminal convictions. Our latest effort to accomplish this is something we are calling Ban the Box. Ban the Box is how we are asking employers to remove the question “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” on job applications. The intention is not to hide that information but to give a prospective employee a fair chance. Divulging information about a criminal record should come up later in the job acquiring process.
Yes, we will need to use some wisdom as we navigate this process. I would like to see people with experience in hiring returning citizens involved in the process by assisting HR professionals. We cannot wait any longer to make progress when it comes to criminal justice reform. We need to hold our local, state and federal government accountable when it comes to laws that affect those in our lower-income communities. Once a person completes a sentence for committing a crime, they should have a fair chance to compete in our great economic system. I quote from the pledge, “And to the republic for which it stands, One nation under God, With liberty and justice for all.” Justice for all means justice for all! If we are going to be Americans, let’s be Americans. Let’s be the America that people from other countries are leaving their homes to find hope. The America that educates the world, the America where you can choose.
It seems like a no-brainer that we give all our citizens an opportunity for economic mobility and that starts with a job. If you are an employer and don’t know where to start, partner with a local organization who works with individuals with criminal backgrounds to change the lives of returning citizens. Fear is the reason employers are deterred from hiring those with criminal backgrounds. Large companies cover fear by using the word risk and hire risk managers that ultimately diminish opportunities for our returning neighbors. To counsel and guide you, reach out to those who have experience and can help you navigate the challenges that may occur as well as the fears you may have.
In conclusion, we need to reconsider our hiring practices and how we treat those who have committed crimes but have served their time and desire to be productive citizens. Ban the Box is just one way that we can move the needle in criminal justice reform. It will give the prospective employee a fair chance to move up the economic ladder. If we help change an individual’s life, that life will potentially impact the next generation and move them out of poverty.