Pardon for productive members of society

barrier (hawksanddoves flickr)

The governor of New York, Mr. Cuomo, last month announced a pardon for thousands of people who were convicted of nonviolent crimes when they were 16 or 17 years old, but have in ten or more years thereafter not been convicted for other crimes. The pardon aims to remove the barriers that people who are convicted face to get a job. People would still answer ‘yes’ to the question about past conviction on application forms, but can show documentation that they have a pardon for that offence.

It is a ‘step forward for juvenile offenders’, indeed, as the New York Times’ editorial stated: ‘The plan is welcome news to those who have been shut out of jobs and otherwise marginalized because of minor offenses committed when they were still young.’

However, it could be far more helpful for those who have been unable to get jobs, if the pardon did not require that people prove they are ‘productive members of society’ already. To be eligible,

Applicants will be evaluated by executive branch officials on whether they are productive members of their communities, a definition that the governor’s office said included someone who was already employed or looking for work or in school.

In other words, in order to have barriers to being a ‘productive member of society’ removed, someone will first have to show that they are a productive member of society. Doesn’t this undermine the whole idea of the pardon? Isn’t this in fact to deny that people with past conviction face difficulties getting jobs, so that they may indeed not be productive members of society?

If governor Cuomo really wants to acknowledge the fact that convictions come with an extra sentence – a greater risk of being unemployed – it should not set such rules for the pardon. In stead, eligibility for the pardon should be evaluated solely on whether one has lived a ‘law-abiding life’ for ten years after their conviction, with or without job or schooling.

image by Paul Englefield on Flickr

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