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The Permenant Criminal Class


Sep 23, 2005
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I would like to quote Alan Elsner again from his book "Gates of Injustice:"

Released prisoners face a daunting array of institutional barriers that make it incredibly difficult for them to find a place in soceity. Welfare reform legislation in 1996 banned anyone convicted of buying or selling drugs from receiving cash assistance or food stamps for life. No other offense reulted in a permanent loss of benefits. Nobody was exempt from this blanket exclusion not pregnant women not people in treatment or recovery, not people sufferring from HIV.

Legislation in 1996 and 1998 also excluded ex-felons and their families from federal housing. Under these provisions, a grandmother whose drug using grandson was living with her could be evicted. The law made it almost impossible for many women released from prison to reconnect with their children. Following its adoption, the number of people denied public housing virtually doubled overnight.

Ex-prisoners also face steep official and unofficial barriers when it comes to finding jobs. Most inmates leave prison with no money and few prospects. They may get $25 and a bus ticket home if they are lucky. Several states have barred parolees from working in a variety of professions, including real estate, medicine, nursing, engineering, education, and dentistry. The Higher Education Act of 1998 bars people convicted of drugs offenses from receiving student loans. What we see here is the emergence of a permanent criminal class. Prisoners are told to reform, but they are given few tools to do so. Once they are entagled in the prison system, many belong to it for life. They may spend stretches of time inside prison and periods outside, but they are never truly free. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kenedy commented, "A decent and free society, founded in respect for the individual, ought not to run a system with a sign at the entrance for inmates saying 'Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.'""
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