Now hiring: Ex-cons need apply
Has San Francisco gone bananas? The city banned Happy Meals, to our editorial board's dismay, and now it is trying to do the same with circumcision and pets. "Will you please get a life?" pleaded columnist Meghan Daum in a recent Op-Ed. She continued: "You don't realize that social legislation is like garlic. When used sparingly, it can provide a useful kick to a dish. When overused, it makes people run away every time you open your mouth."
Now San Francisco wants to bar employers and landlords from asking applicants for their criminal history until after the person has been adequately considered for the job, reports Lee Romney. But actually, that's a proposal I can get behind.
I understand the instinct to feel scared and to wonder if criminals deserve jobs when unemployment is so high. But people deserve second chances. They deserve an opportunity to reintegrate into society and to get it right this time. If we create obstacles rather than opening the door to a life that's worth living, then, as a society, we fail. Beyond compassion, we need to give people a way out of the life that got them in trouble in the first place.
San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon, who supports the proposed law, argues:
This is not about being soft on crime. If we release people into our communities and don't figure out a way to get them housing and employment, we put them in a situation where the only opportunity they have is often to reoffend.
Father Gregory Boyle of L.A.'s Homeboy Industries agrees. In a May Op-Ed, he wrote:
The business of second chances is everybody's business. We lose our right to be surprised that California has the highest recidivism rate in the country if we refuse to hire folks who have taken responsibility for their crimes and have done their time.
Even in this alarming economic climate, where the pool of prospective employees is larger than ever, we need to find the moral imperative as a society to secure places in our workforce for those who just need a chance to prove themselves. This can't be the concern only of a large gang rehab center; it must also be part of our collective response to keep our streets safe and our communities healthy.
As a society, we come up lacking in many of the marks of compassion and wisdom by which we measure ourselves as civilized.
If you're still not convinced, maybe this will help persuade you on the value of treating people like they matter, even when they've done the unimaginable.
Photo: Inmate Bobby Cortez, 29, sits in a cage at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters