Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Arizona Restoration Project

I attended a conference of the local Civil Rights Restoration Project today. Many people are aware that each state deals with removing the civil rights (especially voting rights) of felons, and restoring them in its own way. What is not well known is that states, localities, and the Federal government have a myriad of laws, regulations, and rules that disqualify convicted felons from a wide variety of benefits, privileges, and opportunities in many areas of life, from welfare, housing, and education, to the ability to enter certain trades.

The group aims to study the issue in Arizona. There is no full study of the effects of the crimal justice system on the rights and legal status of convicted felons in Arizona. A similar study to that proposed for Arizona was conducted in Ohio and turned up over 300 distinct legal detriments, which took a team of law students 6 months to ferret out. Eventually, the idea is to craft legislative solutions to eliminate many of those penalties, or to make the system more fair and simpler to apply to for restoration of rights.

The political climate is certainly a concern. How to sell the restoration of rights to ex-felons to a Republican controled state government? It’s a clearly an exercise in framing. One can approach it from a practical value basis: reducing the imediments to reintegration of ex-felons into society will help reduce recidivism and reduce crime and the cost of the prison system. There are basic ethical values appeals: we want to encourage self-reliance among those released from prison, placing barriers to achieving self-reliance in the form of a job, a family, stable housing, and so forth locks a person into the cycle of criminality. There is also the value of basic fairness: a person convicted of a crime should be informed of the complete penalty they face and the literally hundreds of penalties lurking in state laws and regulations constitute hidden, and perpetual penalties for a crime. Finally, there is a moral values at stake: as a society we value the idea that a person is redeemable, that every sinner can be saved and even the most inveterate reprobate can be rehabilitated. Some believe that only their God can work such a change, others, like myself, believe that people are essentially good natured, social beings. Most of the penalities for being a convicted felon are perpetual, having no time limits and method of challenge or appeal. Such finality violates the hope that people can eventually put their bad deeds behind them. Between these various framings, legal reform might eventually move ahead with bi-partisan support

Anyone interested in participating in the study group, or any of the break-out committees on public education, organizational out-reach, political networking, legal study, or strategy, contact Representative Ted Downing.


At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...others, like myself, believe that people are essentially good natured, social beings."

Unless he's a Republican from Texas, right? In that case he's tarred and feathered before you can say innocent until proven guilty.

Violent criminals deserve a chance to live rightly by allowing them to live off the productive members of society? Are you kidding? Gees. Maybe I took the wrong route by going to college and learning a trade. I should have just committed a crime & gone to jail. Sure is easier than working for a living.

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most offenders are non violent in nature. Most also have offended at an early age ( Most before the age of 25 ). Most offenders have been convicted of some substance abuse issue, either directly or indirectly. The "System" does not rehab offenders. If an offender has shown a clear and uneventful track record, why should they not be given their rights back?

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous monika said...

i am a 23 year-old female convicted of a drug related felony at 17, possesion of marijuana for sale (i had about a half ounce-$40 worth) , I was tried as an adult because i was "so close" to 18. I have successfully completed probation over 2 years ago, been through an in-patient rehab. program and have not been in trouble since I now have one kid and one on the way but cannot get an apartment complex to rent to me for the life of me! How is this fair? And this never comes off my record? not to mention i can't vote or recieve any government benefits, if i AM able to restore my rights i don't even know where to begin looking, that's something they leave out in the whole conviction process- when searching on line this is the closest thing to a "resource" for a convicted felon in az that google could find. Maybe i would have went to college and gotten a good job too if not for the fact that no decent company will hire me because I am branded an 'ex-con' for life. In reality i was a stupid teen who made the mistake of hanging out with the wrong people. And unlike rapists or armed robbers who are able to restore their rights to vote, etc..... people with drug offenses are not allowed this priviledge. Justice or just us?


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