When a person in the United States is found guilty of a crime by a jury of his or her peers, that person receives a sentence meant to deliver a balance of justice for the crime committed, whether through financial renumeration to the plaintiff or through incarceration. Once the handed-down punishment is fulfilled, the scales of justice are assumed to be even, the offender assumed to have learned a hard lesson in social responsibility, and all parties can proceed with normal life. Unfortunately, our society has developed an insistence on hanging permanent punishments upon people for even minor infractions.
A recent example in the news found a long-time employee of Wells Fargo fired for a shoplifting conviction 40 years in the past. This woman, Yolanda Quesada, was tried and sentenced for a petty crime committed as a teenager, moved on, and lived a lawful life working for Wells Fargo for many years. Bygones should have remained bygones. But the bank’s reading of federal law, and the inflexibility of both the law and the company’s policy, caused them to dig around in her distant past and resulted in her unemployment.
Like Ms. Quesada, a growing number of people today find themselves on the wrong side of the hiring line because of a minor misstep from long ago. Work histories can haunt job-seekers who can’t get far enough away from a long-ago termination. Teenage boys are labeled life-long sex offenders because of camera phone images and text messages from teenage girlfriends. Drug convictions linger throughout adulthood for average kids who experiment with marijuana.
Criminal records, once primarily a tool for law enforcement officials, have crept into everyday life. There no longer exists much opportunity for someone to reform and put the past behind, as any previous transgression will arise whenever an individual applies for a job or a place to live. He or she is effectively sentenced forever, punished in perpetuity for a single offense. The ubiquitous availability of all information, anytime, on anyone, in our electro-omniscient era has created a barrier to turning one’s life around that becomes increasingly difficult to overcome. While there is a minor benefit to screening some individuals out of a small pool of career fields, that benefit does not justify the intrusive examination of one’s life from birth to present day simply for consideration of employment.
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Jake Negovan drives Red Brown and Blue to be an outlet for progressive political opinion that leads to the betterment of life for the real, multicultural population of the U.S. and the rest of the world. His columns address the issues faced by our country as we continue growing toward a society of equality. More about Jake can be found on the web at jakejots.com or on Twitter@jakenegovan.