H.R.5492 the "Fresh Start Act of 2010"
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Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress
A federal felony conviction is forever. There is no appeal, there are no second chances and there are few if any real opportunities for a fresh start by an ex-offender.
Thousands of young men and women have been convicted of a Federal Felony and have completed the punishment decreed by the court. Yet, regardless of the sentence handed down by the courts and having ?paid their debt to society?; they have also being handed a hidden life sentence that was not the result of any judicial proceeding. There is currently no appeal process for this life sentence.
Most citizens believe that when someone who made a mistake has completed the punishment decreed by the court, that person has "Paid Their Full Debt to Society" and are thus free to resume their lives as they were before. Nothing is further from the truth. Under current Federal law, someone convicted of a federal felony will suffer the collateral consequences and lifetime stigma of the conviction, regardless of the magnitude of the offense. This stigma has become a civil death sentence for many.
In our judicial system, the magnitude of the offense determines the degree of punishment. The collateral consequences suffered upon completion of an offender's court ordered punishment is the same for all. Under federal law, the post conviction treatment of a non-violent offender is the same as that of someone who may have committed the most egregious of violent offenses. Some non-violent first offenders are only sentenced to periods of probation yet they must suffer the same post conviction consequences as someone who committed a much more serious violent crime. This is not justice.
A first time, non-violent offender who has paid their full debt deserves a second chance, a fresh start. They deserve an opportunity to earn their lives back. These people are not ?hardened criminals.? Many if not most of them are quite ordinary people who have made a bad decision. They know it, they take full responsibility for their actions and they are full of remorse for the pain that they have caused to their families and society. Many are so called ?white collar? offenders who had very good jobs before they made a mistake. Even someone like Martha Stewart fits this category. However, unlike Ms. Stewart most of these people do not have a merchandizing empire to fall back on. Most will never be able to regain their previous position. They are disenfranchised in too many ways to enumerate here.
There is much rhetoric about how much is being done to rehabilitate those who have committed a crime. People in the justice system talk about how much is being done to prepare the ex-offenders for their return to society. These are hollow, meaningless words when the reality is that we do everything possible to hamper previous offenders from regaining a productive place in society. Then we raise a hue and cry about how high the recidivism rate is.
We incarcerate more people than any other country on the planet. In our current economic situation, we should be using the many less expensive, more effective methods available. The only real way to reduce the inmate population and reduce the number of felons is to ensure that imprisonment is a method of last resort. We should re-write the mandatory sentencing laws that have filled prisons to bursting with nonviolent offenders who are doomed to remain trapped at the very margins of society unless you use your power to correct this travesty of justice.
Expungement legislation has been introduced to the House of Representatives in every session of Congress since the year 2000. Many members of the current Congress have co-sponsored this legislation yet not one bill has ever made it out of committee. Please do not allow this to happen again. I am asking that you Mr. President and the members of Congress support and pass H. R. 5492 the "Fresh Start Act of 2010" sponsored by Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee. This bill is a both a human and humane piece of legislation. The positive impact of the legislation is incalculable. It is only right and just that federal law allow former offenders the ability to lead productive lives without the stigma of their conviction haunting and handicapping them for the rest of their lives.
The concept of ?permanent punishment? with no hope of restoration for a non-violent first offender is void of any of the commonly held concepts of fairness. This bill is not, and you must not treat it as, a partisan issue. It is not Democrat/Republican, Conservative/Liberal or Black/White. Rather it is simply doing the right thing. Compassion and mercy should not be viewed as being "soft on crime." Please take immediate action. Add your support and pass this most worthy bill.
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