We may be a year-and-a-half away from the 2022 General Election, but now is the time for political parties that are hopeful of leading The Bahamas to start thinking of unique offerings to the Bahamian people.
Every election cycle, voters are treated to the same old tired campaign promises: a focus on education, a reduction in crime, set election dates, etc. But, the time has come for politicians to go further, especially if they are serious about reducing crime and having a more productive citizenry.
One group of citizens that would love the opportunity to be more productive are ex-offenders.
Ex-felons often find it difficult to reintegrate into society after serving time. Many people buy into the myth that after a felon is released from prison he and she is free to go back to a life of normalcy, but somehow chooses to resort to a life of crime.
But, the reality is, many ex-offenders leave prison with no savings, nowhere to live and no family support.
When they walk out of the prison’s gates they are penniless, homeless and even worse, hopeless.
These ex-offenders often have no clue how to rebuild their lives or how to navigate an unforgiving and judgmental society. Making matters worse, they find themselves encountering great barriers to employment.
Because many businesses are reluctant to hire someone with a criminal record, these individuals remain jobless with no way to support themselves. They end up repeating the vicious cycle of crime and returning to prison.
There are many young, able-bodied men and women who want to work and want to feel like a productive member of society. However, they will not get that chance outside of the construction industry and a few service jobs.
Few people will understand the levels of anxiety an individual with a criminal record feels every time he/she has to fill out a job application.
Even if they are able to perform the job or are qualified to do the tasks, they know that by admitting they have a record they will be automatically disqualified. This is why many struggle to find employment, while others find it difficult to muster the courage to even look.
It’s also difficult for ex-offenders to become business owners. Starting a business can be costly and few have the seed money required to set up shop. So, going to business for themselves is out of the question.
Ex-offenders deserve the opportunity to be able to earn a living following incarceration.
Political candidates who hope to lead in 2022 should be thinking of creative ways to assist this group of individuals.
It’s not uncommon for governments around the world to offer businesses tax breaks if they hire ex-offenders.
In several US counties, for example, officials have created an office of re-entry to help ex-offenders find jobs and services that would prevent them from reoffending.
Research shows that ex-felons tend to be more loyal to an organization that hires them for the mere reason that they are grateful for the opportunity to be gainfully employed. They tend to stay with the company longer as well and do everything in their power not to mess up the opportunity.
Housing is another major issue. More specifically, affordable housing.
Landlords – at least those who do thorough background checks – are unwilling to rent to ex-felons. And coming up with first and last month’s rent in addition to a security deposit is tough for individuals who are already on a job let alone one without employment.
I interviewed a former inmate for a news story several years ago and he told me that while he did not want to return to prison, he was comforted to know that he when he was incarcerated he had a roof over his head and daily meals. At the time of our interview, he was homeless.
A job could have made all the difference in his life.
People need to feel like there is hope after they have made a mistake. Once someone has had their freedom taken away from them and they serve their sentence, they deserve the opportunity to hit the restart button.
We also have to consider that there are instances where individuals end up in prison and are saddled with a police record for the rest of their lives for a crime they did not commit. It happens. Then, they grow bitter because they continue to be punished for something they did not do.
We must also remember that not every ex-prisoner served time for a violent charge.
I’m sure there are critics who believe that ex-offenders deserve to be punished for the rest of their lives.
But, the world is also moving in the direction of more inclusion. It does not benefit a society to deprive a group of people the opportunity to live a decent life. I would hate for The Bahamas to be left behind yet again.
When we shut ex-offenders out we also shut out their families, and in particular, their children who rely on them for financial support.
We need to make sure that a prison sentence served doesn’t turn into a life sentence.