Time and time again, stories are told of young people who committed crimes and then were later trapped by the implications of those past decisions. Often, even those who have served no jail time are haunted for years and even decades to come. A not often told element of the story, however, is how this puzzle can become more complicated when those with a criminal history are or later become parents.
A local news affiliate in Florida recently did a story on exactly that, and found that families in which one or both parents had criminal pasts had a significantly more difficult existence when it came to the bureaucratic side of living. Take James Swanson, for example, who has a past conviction trying to flee from the police over a decade ago. Swanson’s friend stole alcohol from a liquor store, and asked Swanson to be his getaway driver. When the police showed, Swanson told his friend he didn’t want to run from the police, so he pulled over at a gas station, got out, and turned himself in. Formerly, he was charged with accessory to retail theft.
For the stunt, Swanson would spend a grand total of two months in jail, but the conviction would still haunt him for years to come. For one, he was automatically disqualified from any higher paying or skilled work, making money harder to come by. Even so, Swanson was able to eventually save up enough money for his family to move into an apartment. Surprise! Landlords wanted two to three times the usual security deposit to rent their properties to a convicted criminal – regardless of the time or circumstances. For Swanson, that was too expensive, and he was back to square one.
Unfortunately for those in Swanson’s position, the expungement process in many states, Florida included, is lengthy and expensive; it involves legal counsel, paperwork, court dates, and more. On the low side, expungement will cost a couple of hundred dollars. While this might seem like a small price tag to many, the problem can become a self-compounding vicious cycle.
Those with records are bound to limited, low-paying employment, meaning they can’t make much money. In turn, they aren’t able to pay the legal fees to clear their records, so they end up stuck in those low-paying jobs due to employer background checks, and the cycle perpetuates. One solution might be to try and get a small, short term loan, but here again a criminal record can be a major problem for credit and loan service approval.
Many opponents of the current records setup say that minor crimes condemn young people to lives of low productivity and achievement, even for just one youthful mistake. Regardless of the side of the fence one resides on, however, it’s undeniable that there are unintentional victims in this system. Housing prospect limitations for parents with criminal records can lead to homelessness not only for them, but for their children as well. In some districts, several thousands of enrolled students will be homeless.