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Beaumaster: We Need to Evaluate Our Current Corrections System

As a community—at local and state levels—we need to evaluate our current corrections system, examining how we reintegrate prisoners back into our communities as contributing members of society.

Minnesota’s largest prison facility is located in Rice County, on the former Regional Treatment Center site in Faribault.

Ninety-nine percent of all prisoners are eventually released to make their way in the world. Some are released with parole conditions, while others have completed their sentence requirements. Most catch a bus out of town, and return to the familiarity of their former community and friends. Unfortunately, this often means a return to the lifestyle that resulted in their incarceration. It paints a bleak picture.

As a community—at local and state levels—we need to evaluate our current corrections system, examining how we reintegrate prisoners back into our communities as contributing members of society. An improved approach to reintegration will increase public safety and prevent recidivism.

Similar to other states, Minnesota has statutory, collateral sanctions imposed upon felons. Collateral sanctions might include: employment and licensing prohibitions; being barred from hunting with a firearm; being barred from receiving government assistance services; and, being unable to vote. Some of these sanctions are lifted when the felon has successfully completed parole.

Some individuals seek relief from collateral sanctions through a pardon, but the majority of felons face legal barriers to reintegration their entire life. The combined effect of the collateral sanctions, along with the reluctance of many employers to hire offenders, creates a formidable barrier to an offender’s success upon release. The net result is an increased likelihood that an offender will return to criminal behavior and again cycle through the criminal justice system.

The law should provide a way to mitigate the effects of these barriers. Individuals who have successfully completed their sentence and parole, and who have met expectations to rehabilitate themselves, should be able to petition the court for a certificate of rehabilitation. Certificates of rehabilitation could lift the statutory collateral sanctions and protect employers and others from liability if they give a rehabilitated offender a chance. The record of the crime would remain for the felon to explain, but the certificate will be a testament to their rehabilitation. A bill to make this a Minnesota law has been introduced and supported by many organizations over the last several legislative sessions. The bill will again be put forward next year.

Given the widespread availability of, and interest in, criminal record information, this bill seeks to neutralize the disabling effect a criminal record has upon such things as employment. A certificate of rehabilitation can be official confirmation that a felon has been successful in his rehabilitative efforts, despite his criminal record.

If rehabilitation of criminal offenders is a desirable social goal, we need to evaluate this piece of our corrections system. Are community pressures consigning everyone with a felony record as an outcast, unemployable, and unable to contribute to society? Can we find a compromise between public safety and reintegrating former felons as working, tax-paying members of society? Serious discussions should begin.

Many in our community are thankful for rehabilitation and redemption. They are our neighbors, friends and family.   

Britt Ackerman November 28, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Good article Paul. I commend you for your support of the proposed legislation which would provide a mechanism for relief in the form of a certificate of rehabilitation. You do a good job in this article of explaining the futility of rehabilitation in merited cases. It's important to counter the "lock them up and throw away the key" mentality so prevalent in public opinion. However, I believe that our focus should be on reforming our current expungement law, to make expungement a meaningful remedy again. When it comes to obtaining employment and housing, the stigma of a conviction won't disappear with a certificate of rehabilitation. However, expungement of criminal records will protect a rehabilitated offender from the effects of onerous and oftentimes inaccurate background checks. I trust our judges' discretion in determining which offenders merit expungement. Rehabilitated felons just need someone to give them a chance. When you say "[t]he record of the crime would remain for the felon to explain" you minimize the reality of the situation. Employers who are not familiar with the criminal justice system won't take a second look at a rehabilitated offender, so long as there are other candidates without a record, certificate of rehabilitation or not. Nevertheless, any step toward reducing barriers to entry is positive, therefore I thank you for bringing this issue to light and for understanding that reform is needed.

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