Ban the box, save the ex-felon

I'm 1002 and you?

A question no more

I have long complained about the failure of governments to engage in any sort of meaningful re-entry for inmates. For a vast majority of released felons, prison is a revolving door. Without any training, education or skills, job prospects are dismal. With no job, there is no money and where there is no money, there is the lure of crime to make some quickly.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised this morning, while listening to Where We Live on NPR. The guest was John DeStefano, mayor of New Haven, and he was discussing the policy he seeks to implement in the city: ban the box. No, this is not some traffic related policy, as I first thought, but a clever scheme aimed at integrating ex-felons back into the community.

Ban the box refers to banning employment applications from listing a “box” that asks applicants whether they are ex-felons. This allows ex-felons to be on the same footing as any other applicant, by preventing would-be employers from discarding them at the get-go.  I’m embarrassed that this story has escaped my attention for three months now, but the wonderful New Haven Independent is all over it:

Some days are agonizing

In this line of work, I don’t think there’s anything more heart wrenching that sitting across from a likely innocent client and having to tell him that there’s no way to prove that innocence and then watching him hold back tears and decide between two morbid choices: accepting the plea offer and spend the next 15 years locked up or go to trial and risk 60 years.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.

The plea jury: a mirror unto ourselves

The Plea Jury is the title and subject of a new (draft) paper by Laura Appleman, a professor of law at Willamette and blogger at The Faculty Lounge, which goes into some length about the failure of the plea bargaining system and how it should be replaced by this innovation.

The plea jury, essentially, would be a jury of lay persons who would “preside” over the plea bargaining process. It would make the determination of the voluntariness of the plea, decide whether to accept the plea and listen to the defendant’s allocution, ultimately settling on the punishment to be imposed, if the recommended sentence is unsatisfactory.

This, according to Appleman, while not being a pancea, would substantially reduce the problems with the plea bargaining process as they currently stand.

I spot some problems with this right at the outset, but I’m not willing to completely dismiss it out of hand. The problems, of course, are the greater participation of the “public” into a mechanism where their encroachment is already great. The plea bargain is essentially a contract between the State and the defendant. Her proposal of the plea jury would inject a section of the public into that contract, as an ultimate arbiter. The rights of the defendant would yet again take second place to this retributive theory and the primacy of the public.

She also makes much of the jury’s ability to discern whether the defendant is showing honest remorse, does accept responsibility and so on.

Gideon’s suggestions for reducing the budget deficit in CT

I know no one asked, but I am nothing if not a bloviator, so these are my suggestions for reducing (even in small part) the current budget deficit that CT faces. In the style of a letter to our Governor.

Dear Governor Rell,

You and I haven’t always gotten along. In fact, it’s no secret that I don’t like your views on criminal justice and your disregard for the “rule of law”. But these are strange times and strange times make strange bedfellows – or in our case, strange letter writers and recipients.

So, in the spirit of bi-partisanship so convincingly advocated for by our C-in-C, I propose the following changes that could save the State some money, even if it isn’t much. Perhaps it can save a job or two.

If the budget deficit exceeds $1bn, it must be bizarro-world

Ever since the Governor announced her proposed budget earlier this week, the cost-cutting proposals have received a lot of scrutiny both in the press and on the web. So it is only in this troublesome climate that eliminating a measure that would reduce incarceration costs can be considered a cost-saving measure.

One of the things she mentioned in her speech was that, in order to save money, 130 “obsolete” laws would be repealed. An interesting idea, to be sure, until you look at one of the statutes on that list. That would be Conn. Gen. Stat. 54-125d. If you’re too lazy to click on the link, I’ll tell you what it is: the deportation parole statute.