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Friday, December 14, 2007

Social Forgiveness of Branded Men

I'd like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am
But they won't let my secret go untold
I paid the debt I owed them,but they're still not satisfied
Now I'm a branded man out un the cold
- Merle Haggard, Branded Man

I've been a fan of Merle Haggard ever since I was a kid. His songs seemed to strike a cord with me. The one that touches me the most is Branded Man, the story of a man who was in prison and paid his debt to society, but was discriminated against after his release.

It might be just another song if it didn't reflect exactly how our society treats ex-offenders. Long ago, a man released from prison could move out of the state and start over. Now, thanks to computer technology and registration requirements for many ex-offenders, there is not only nowhere to hide, there is nowhere to start over.

We complain about the rampant crime in our society, yet we fail to realize we are, in part, responsible for our own mess.

Multiple studies, academic, governmental, and independent, have shown that ex-offenders who have steady, stable employment, housing, and community support services are far more likely to never commit another crime. Yet two-thirds of employers, if they know someone is an ex-felon, won't give them the chance. Many apartment complexes refuse to rent to them. Sex offenders in particular are victimized by this phenomena, being the only class of ex-offender who is required to uniformly not only register with the state they are living in, but in most states to have their picture, crime, and address posted on the Internet.

The basic question is, does this make us and our children any safer in our society? Statistics indicate the answer is no. By not allowing ex-offenders a chance to start over after paying their debt to society, we are setting them up for repeat behavior and endangering ourselves and our families.

Maybe we need to rethink this.

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