However one comes out on the issue of ex-cons in public housing, an issue that Steph Machado covers in a WPRI article, one must acknowledge that it’s an issue worthy of deep consideration:
Naomi Chasek-Macfoy testified on behalf of DARE, asking the PHA to change its current rules about people who have been convicted of crimes.
“Formerly incarcerated people already served their time,” Chasek-Macfoy said. “And the PHA should not continue to punish people with records by removing them from their families, one of the most valuable support systems for people with criminal records.”
The PHA is already proposing to change its policy, which currently automatically denies any housing applicant who has a history of violent or drug-related criminal activity within the past ten years. The new proposed policy would consider applicants on a case-by-case basis, and change the look-back period for criminal records to five years. It would also completely stop denying applicants based on misdemeanor crimes, and would soften the policy that bans current drug users from living in the housing. The current rule denies housing to people who have used illegal drugs in the past two years; the new policy would limit it to six months.
Perhaps more than usual, opinions on multiple issues come into play. Some people might be skeptical of public housing in general, regardless of who gets to live there. Others might oppose the drug war that has created so many drug-crime ex-cons. Those beliefs will interplay in individualistic ways.
What seems to me most persuasive, though, is that restrictions on ex-cons above and beyond their criminal sentences create a sort of mirror image of the welfare cliff. At some point and for some people, the government’s various welfare programs add up to so much that it wouldn’t make financial sense to work, even if one wanted to.
In the case at hand, the former prisoners face such a high hurdle to get on the right side of things that it might not seem possible or worth the effort. Serve your time, even with clear and obvious efforts at self-rehabilitation, and you’re still stained for housing and the job market.
Keep this in mind, too, when foolish legislators propose such things as online registries for animal abusers. Our criminal justice system should be about justice, not about affixing the mark of Cain on people:
Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.
Look, you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”
Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight.