Helping Ex-Cons Get on Their Feet


One can certainly sympathize with Thomas Nardolillo’s plight, as he describes it on RI Future, and not agree with his conclusions:

In order for you to understand what an ex-convict is facing without living it, I will give you an example. This is based on a true event: An inmate is released after six years. He has little or no resources. He is given a packet with two bus tickets, a letter for food stamps, and a voucher for some clothes at the Salvation Army. He has to go to a shelter (in by 6pm, out by 6am). He owes $450 to the Providence Courthouse, $750 to the Warwick Courthouse, $2,000 to the DMV, probation fees, and so on. He has to take mandatory classes that cost $120 a month. He needs to pay on all of them, go to probation, and get a job. All on two bus tickets! He can’t get a license because he was in the same spot a few years ago, and risked driving to get a job, resulting in punishment for driving without a license.

Nardolillo is currently serving a six year sentence because last time he was out on probation he had a conflict with his employer and stole a necklace as he left.  The solution for which he’s advocating is, basically, free personalized concierge and advocacy services.  Other advocates want legislation that forbids employers from asking potential employees about their criminal records.

In other words, the progressive approach is to use taxpayer resources and restrictions of employers’ freedom to ease the consequences of some people’s bad decisions.  Creating (essentially) a victim class of ex-convicts and making their bad decisions obligate everybody else to provide them with more services doesn’t seem like the way to get fewer bad decisions.

Why not go in the other direction: limiting government and expanding freedom?  Reduce the cost of government, in large part by reining in union excesses, to reduce necessary fees (not to mention lowering taxes, which would create more economic opportunity and reduce the temptation toward crime).  Loosen restrictions on driving laws so people who need licenses are less likely to lose them, whether or not they’re on probation.

And above all, pursue policies that encourage family formation and civic-society community groups.  In various ways, from its tendency to move into their social territory to its meddling with social issues, government is strangling the non-government groups through which Americans have traditionally mediated society without involving the guns and taxes of a state.

One key role of civic society would be to provide people who’ve slipped with the emotional, moral, and financial support they need to get back on track, but on the terms of the people giving the help, not on the terms of distant politicians whom interest groups can always persuade to provide more and more of other people’s resources.  By that system, the helpers take an interest because they have an interest, not because the government has created jobs for them.