Begging For Recidivism

Matthew Yglesias comments on a New York law recently signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo that would make "convictions for 26 felonies...become automatic disqualifying factors, raising the number of crimes for which a conviction would warrant a permanent ban from school-bus driving to 58."

Obviously, it’s tough to be the guy who’s going to bat for convicted murderers, pimps, and rapists. But the reality is that most people convicted of these crimes don’t serve life sentences. They don’t get executed either. So they have to do something. And the nature of the modern American economy is that the majority of job opportunities involve interacting with other human beings. If it was up to me, we’d try to draw these restrictions very narrowly. A school bus driver supervised children and pilots a vehicle. Serious curbs on people with records of criminally inept driving seem clearly warranted. Similarly, you could plausibly worry that pedophiles would be interested in driving a school bus for sub-market wages and want to make sure you’re screening them out. But beyond that, what is the job you want your ex-con murderer to be doing? We can’t ship them to Australia. Penalizing ex-cons by making them unemployable is only going to backlash against us in the form of reduced reintegration and more crime.

This is exactly right. The social stigma of being formerly incarcerated makes finding licit employment hard enough, and given the demographics of the prison population this kind of thing has a disproportionate effect on people of color. Given that the formerly incarcerated tend to cluster in economically depressed neighborhoods already, barring them from jobs has the second order effect of exacerbating the problem.

If that doesn't move you, keep in mind that we're the ones that ultimately pay for this stuff, whether its through absent revenues from taxing income or the cost of reincarceration when these people ultimately give up and decide to earn money through illicit means. Their children pay for it, and because having an incarcerated parent makes you more likely to be incarcerated, we pay for it again. 

Public opinion is easily moved by fear, so obviously for many people all it takes is one ex-convict committing a crime to justify laws like these. But given the fact that the market already has built-in constraints on hiring the formerly incarcerated--I don't think you need a law to tell a perspective employer a former pedophile shouldn't be driving a school bus--all this does is exacerbate the collective cost of post-incarceration unemployment and high recidivism.

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