Monday, December 17, 2012

Former Prisoners Denied Re-integration Through Discrimination

An American blog providing advice to former prisoners who are trying (against all odds) to find work and move on with their lives.  I really like the idea of allowing people to write in directly and get a response directly on specific situations encountered.  These sorts of services are few and far between.  

Making this blog an especially important service is the fact that employment or rather lack of it, is the number one factor preventing people from escaping the revolving door of the legal system.  In fact, given the enormous barriers to escaping the prison system, one can reason that the powers that be, prefer to keep the powerless right where they are.  Without marketable skills, without close family ties, without hope.  Marcs referred to these folks and others  similar to them as surplus labour.  Their existence goes a long way to driving down labour market wages, benefits and to discouraging people from organising, forming unions, and demanding improved working conditions.

How does that work some of you are asking.  People working in lower paying, precarious forms of employment, or people who dont yet have permanent resident status, etc are afraid that the retributive hand of the government will come down on them next.  And there are plenty of examples.  Immigration programmes are designed to ensure workers are kept in the most precarious of working conditions with the ever present threat of separation from families, incarceration and deportation.

The USA and Canada less so (so far) have found ways to make prisoners themselves a commodity to be used for the express benefit of corporate America.  Prisoners are contracted out to the lowest bidder on construction or materials production contracts.  And prisoners are paid no more than 5.00 a day and often nothing at all.  They are forced to participate in some of the most dangerous forms of work, iwthout proper safety training or even adequate safety equipment (similar trials faced by immigrant, and trafficked women and children) Think the BP oil spill.  Prisoners who refused to work lost good time, yard time, reduced shower, phone, and visitation "privileges".
Trading in the bodies of those deemed as less than "worthy" is but one form of prison comodification which has come to be known as the prison industrial complex

I have a personal quip however with the usage of the word "Felon" in the title.  Or the words "offender" and "ex offender" throughout the content.  I'm not sure what the thought process has been around this - perhaps a reclaiming of the language the criminal legal system uses?  In any case I'm completely against using the language of the oppressor.  Its something we've been tuaght to do and without question.  As though this type of language is based within the fact of the situation and it simply has nothing to do with fact based language, and everything to do with "othering" those outside the status quo.

Forgive me if I'm coming across in a judgmental fashion.  My intention is simply to speak my mind and get others thinking about this issue - how and why we use language.  When I first started doing writing around criminal legal issues, I found that i was continuously coming across language that made me cringe, but did'nt have alternatives in my immediate repertoire.  

So I decided to ask my self, "what is the truth of the topic/situation I'm talking about?"

For instance 'criminal justice system"  Never does this system render justice for anyone.  I saw some people using "injustice" system.  This was the truth but didn't fit for professional writing.  So what is really happening here, what is the truth of this situation?  Its not a criminal justice system - It is a criminal legal system.
The criminal, offender, felon (this last is a word we dont really use in Canadian context anyways)..What do these words mean?  If we consider the fact that crime is a social constuct, then it seems inappropriate and even detrimental to refer to a person this way.  Who are we to decide if something is "criminal"?  And "offender" is intended to dehumanise, to render other, less than, different from "us".

So this brings us back to my original critical questions on language in the criminal legal complex.
"what is the truth of the topic/situation I'm talking about?"

What is really happening here?  What do we mean when stating that someone is a criminal, has committed a crime?  How can I phrase this situation honestly in my writing without needing to use a paragraph or more to explain/be honest?  I chose to use "lawbreaker", "person who has broken the law, person who the law has come into conflict with.

Inmate is another no-no.  People who are forcibly confined against their wills in jails and prisons are prisoners.  But that is not all they are.  None of us can be defined so narrowly.  So what about "person in prison".  Try to think from an anti-oppression, anti-racist theoretical framework.  Person living with a disability.  Person of colour.  Woman who stays at home/works at home. etc.

Now I've gotten completely of topic.  I think 

How felons can get jobs 

is a blog well worth looking at, even from Canada.  Many of the issues to overcome in seeking work with a criminal record are similar here in Canada as in the USA.  And where issues differ, perhaps this is an opeing for someone to take on a project such as this from the canadian perspective!


  1. Hi, My name is Emily, I am a junior in high-school and am doing a research paper on Employment Discrimination of Those with A Criminal Record. I would really like to use this blog entry as a primary source in my paper, however at the current time, I cannot because I do not have sufficient citation information. I would love it if you could e-mail me the information so I could use it. my e-mail is I would greatly appreciate an e-mail. (:

  2. Currently, the Government of Canada seems to be propagating society’s fear of the criminally accused.

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