Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Free Press and The ACLU agree: Wal-Mart should hire felons

The Detroit Free Press: Wal-Mart shouldn't turn convictions into life sentences
elonies carry lacerating lifetime penalities for nearly 1.3 million people in Michigan. You read that right. One in every six adults in Michigan has a felony record, according to Michigan State Police records. When companies like Wal-Mart in Pittsfield Township exclude hiring any of them — no matter what or how old the conviction is — it sends the wrong message to the rest of society. Lifetime restrictions on employment make bad social policy and shortsighted business practice. They also raise serious legal questions, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan noted this week.

In a Dec. 22 letter to Wal-Mart, the ACLU rightly expressed concern about reports that Wal-Mart’s new store in Pittsfield Township was automatically excluding any applicant with a felony from the selection process. “The blanket exclusion of ex-felons from employment without regard to qualifications or the possibility of rehabilitation punishes individuals who have already done their time and are trying to become productive members of society,’’ said ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Jessie Rossman. “We cannot afford to turn a past felony conviction into a life sentence of unemployment and poverty. Everyone benefits when ex-offenders are given the tools to succeed upon release.’’
Of course once Wal-Mart starts to move away from this clear rule and then allowing some felons, expect tons of law suits alleging Wal-Mart discriminates by allowing some felons employment but not others. Perhaps the ACLU will argue that those convicted of theft crimes, drug dealing, or other nonviolent felonies should be allowed to work there. The perhaps they can expand the wedge and argue that violent felonies are ok as well as long as they're not "too" serious.

Already the ACLU argues that
As the ACLU notes, prohibiting all applicants with a felony conviction from obtaining a job also violates federal anti-discrimination law. Such policies have a disparate impact on African Americans. No one is saying that there are not legitimate reasons for not hiring people with felony convictions. But a blanket ban is unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory.
Just wait until it is modified under pressure to a ban on some rather than all felonies and watch the lawsuits fly.

The Freep does however point out a very real problem:
It’s easier to get jammed up in the system than most people think. I recently wrote about a Detroiter and retired auto worker who was barred from nursing school, despite being an honor student, because of an almost decade-old case in which he caught a felony firearms conviction, following a routine traffic stop, for having his legally registered gun in a duffel bag on the back seat of his car. He was coming back from a shooting range.

The solution to this real problem is to end the current proclivity of our lawmakers for making every misdeed, matter how trivial or harmless, a felony.

Many acts should not be a crime at all, let alone a felony.

Have fewer acts defined as felonies and you'll have less felons and you'll save resources to be able to deal with and focus on the actual dangerous criminals that are a far greater threat than some fellow who forgot to put his bag in the trunk on the way home.

Don't blame Wal-Mart, blame the over-criminalization of society, brought to you by our legislatures.

No comments: