Everyone Deserves a Second Chance – Let’s Try to Help
By Shlomo Maital
Doug Deason is a wealthy businessman, president of Deason Capital Services and a philanthropist, head of the Deason Foundation. And he has a message.
When he was 17, in 1979, he broke in to his neighbors’ home and threw a party, while they were out of town. (Actually, their son had given him a key). The party got out of hand. The police were called. And Deason was charged with felony burglary. Note that word: Felony. A federal crime. You get a year or more in jail, in a Federal pen.
If he were poor and black, his life would have basically ended. With a criminal record, he certainly could not have started a business in investments, or perhaps in anything. All he could have done was continued along the path of crime… after a youthful stupid mistake that really harmed nobody.
And this is precisely what happens to a great many young people in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2011 – about 0.94% of adults in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,814,200 adults at year-end 2011 were on probation or on parole. One percent of adult Americans are in jail. A large proportion are African-Americans. As many as 100 million people have some criminal record.
Deason pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor (criminal trespass), paid a fine, served six months of probation – and then his conviction was expunged, erased. He got a second chance. And he made the most of it.
Deason is a Republican. He and others are pushing for criminal justice reform. “Years ago, I made a mistake and got a second chance. Every American should be able to say the same thing,” he says.
Deason’s company has a policy of hiring nonviolent criminals. He worked with the Texas State Legislature (not known as a bastion of liberal democracy) to pass a bipartisan “second chances” bill, that takes effect on Sept. 1.
But I think there is another key point here. You really cannot legislate second chances. It is up to us, the people, to offer second chances, to forgive, and to help those who have made that one huge mistake and are paying for it forever. Of course there are risks. But when there is no second chance at a normal life, the only option is a life of violence and crime. Why in the world does America’s criminal justice system not understand that?