Balanced Owed

Once a person completes a court order probation, serves a prison sentence day-for day or time served in conjunction with a period of time spent on parole, the truth of the situation is the court order punishment has ended. The debt owed to society is considered paid upon successfully discharging a sentence. However for many individuals with criminal records, the balance owed for breaking the law extends beyond incarceration, probation, and parole. 

For the men and women who have paid their debt to society they often find themselves still owing a balance. That balance stems from the barriers associated with a criminal background. 

A criminal background significantly reduces the likelihood of a person’s ability to secure employment. According to the Clean Slate Initiative 9 out of 10 employers perform a criminal background check. These background checks are almost an immediate disqualification for the 1 out of 3 adults who have criminal records. 

In Texas public housing authorities and private property owners are legally allowed to deny housing to applications with a criminal record. Access to housing is a basic human right. It baffles me that applicants who meet all other criteria including the ability to pay monthly rent are still denied housing solely based on the results of  a criminal background check. 

The barriers associated with a criminal record greatly impact a person’s ability to secure employment and obtain stable suitable housing. If our government really is interested in creating safer communities and reducing recidivism the first step would be eliminating the background check question from employment and housing applications, through ban-the-box legislation a national movement aimed to prohibit employers and property owners from asking about a person’s criminal history on applications. 

A criminal conviction should not equate to a lifelong debt. A balance that never decreases regardless of how hard a person fights to “live a productive life” post conviction. 

Written by: Norman Harris

Clean Slate Initiative. 

Prison Policy Initiative. 

Prison Policy Initiative.