Lifelong consequences for minor offenses

A moment shouldn’t define a person, but someone can be stripped of all rights and opportunities because of one mistake. While some are forgiven, others see their hopes and dreams shattered in an instant.

Misdemeanors and other minor offenses are leaving qualified college students out of jobs and living with consequences that extend beyond a short prison sentence. 

The fear of the “superpredator,” the War on Drugs and the school-to-prison pipeline resulted in stricter laws and harsher punishments, and young people are facing the brunt of these failed policies.

People between the ages of 26 and 35 are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested compared to past generations, and some charges can directly impact one’s ability to succeed.

A student can be denied financial aid due to a conviction.

The FASFA website states:

“If your incarceration was for a drug-related offense or if you are subject to an involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense, your eligibility may be limited.”

The reality that drug-related offenses can result in the automatic termination of one’s financial aid is frightening. Blacks are 6.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug-related offense, so a black student is at increased risk of major repercussions for a petty drug conviction.

Georgia State student Jalease Richardson understands the difficulties of having a criminal record as a young person: She was arrested back in 2013 and is still attempting to recover and move on.

Following a domestic dispute between Richardson’s brother and his then-girlfriend, the police were called to escort her brother’s ex-girlfriend while she retrieved her items. Afterward, Richardson claimed the officer illegally searched her mother’s home and charged Richardson and her ex-husband with obstructing an officer and marijuana possession.

“He proceeded to say, ‘Well, you have to claim [the marijuana], or we are going to take your children and put them into the system,’” she said. (Jalease Richardson)  

After initial resistance to go to trial, Richardson chose to accept the first-time offender’s guilty plea, which would seal away the conviction following the completion of her sentence, but unfortunately, Richardson’s record is still open to the public.

Richardson is now a licensed phlebotomist with the American Society of Clinical Pathology and completed an externship at Grady Hospital, but she can’t land a job. She believes her conviction is the main problem.

“I am a licensed phlebotomist [yet] I can’t get a job anywhere. I am not sure why. I have applied to maybe 30 different places, maybe two times each,” Richardson said. “I can only get small jobs, like working in fast food, where they don’t do extensive background checks. Trying to be in the medical field, they’re going to look and see if you have any drug-related charges against you.”

Although Richardson found happiness with her current job, friends and three children, she knows the system must change. 

Punishment for serious offenses is necessary, but extended consequences for minor ones, long after people have served their time, aren’t. Convicted criminals find it extremely difficult to return to society and find success. Numerous institutional policies must be altered so that young people can be provided the opportunity for redemption.