When a criminal defendant stands before Justice MaryGay Kennedy in Androscoggin County Superior Court, prepared to enter a guilty plea, the judge runs through a standing list of cautions, including making sure the defendant is aware that a conviction can make it hard to find employment.
She does it every time.
It’s a worthy caution because convicts, especially convicted felons, have a very hard time finding employment that pays a livable wage.
And, without a livable wage, convicts are dependent on social services for food, clothing, medical care and housing, which means taxpayers are footing the bill for society’s general hesitation to hire anyone with a criminal record.
Today’s front-page report examines this issue in Maine.
To be clear, convicts put themselves in this hard-to-employ situation because of their criminal actions, and each and every one is completely responsible for their discomfort. But, the reality is that taxpayers are burdened when convicts can’t get jobs.
The problem is so pervasive across the country that the U.S. Department of Justice has a special division to counsel successful job placement for convicts, and there are specialized public and private career services to help convicts write resumes, prepare for interviews and convince potential employers that they may be worth the risk.
In Maine, there is a new program that does this very thing. Workshops on Job Search Skills for People with Criminal Backgrounds are held once a month at the Lewiston CareerCenter.
Since January, more than 50 people have attended. There’s no way of knowing how many of these people, who have now learned how to market themselves, will ever get jobs that pay enough to get off public assistance.
It would be fabulous if they all got jobs, but that’s just not going to happen.
Employers can be picky when it comes to hiring people, and giving responsibility to someone who has committed a crime is not an easy thing to do.
This is especially true when it comes to society’s most-hated criminals: convicted sex offenders.
In Maine, there are some 3,000 people on the permanent Sex Offender Registry. Of those, only about a third are employed. And, of those, many are self-employed as handymen, maintenance workers and other one-man shops.
The State Bureau of Identification tracks where sex offenders live, but doesn’t track how they pay for basic living expenses. The registry identifies employers, when known, but SBI doesn’t track how many offenders are on public assistance.
Perhaps it should, as a basic matter of public policy.
We can put a price on the cost of a police investigation, the cost of prosecuting a case in court, and the cost of housing an inmate in jail. But society continues to pay if convicts collect social services post-release. For some convicts, it’s a lifetime of taxpayer support.
In Maine, employers have no obligation to hire convicted criminals and we’re not suggesting that any business owner should be forced to do so. In Australia, the federal government won’t even hire felons.
But, we spend an exceptional amount of money providing education to convicts while they’re serving time, including degree work. And when they get out, a limited few are able to put that education to work.
And, without a job, what’s a criminal to do? Frequently, according to convict career counselors, they commit more crime.
And, the cycle continues.
And we all pay.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.