Randy Head’s Bad Idea
As reported in the Times of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Senate voted on and approved a measure to create a felony registry. The sponsor of the measure State Sen. Randy Head said he didn’t want to duplicate the Indiana case management system, Odyssey. And he was being honest.
The proposed registry would not serve the purpose of a case management system at all, which is used to administer and house chronological case summaries. The intent of Senator Head’s registry is to weaponize felony records in the service of public shaming, in much the same manner that sex registries have been deployed against sex offenders.
A felony registry is just poor fiscal policy and reflects a tendency of republican lawmakers to empty our state’s coffer without too much concern for how to fill it. Further, saddling ex-offenders with a lifetime stigma will neither increase public safety nor serve the ends of justice.
Felony Registry Is Poor Fiscal Policy and Raises Questions about Head’s Judgement
A Prison Policy Initiative study found that the formerly incarcerated are unemployed at a rate of over twenty-seven percent. Because ex-offenders already have trouble securing viable employment, housing, and insurance, those placed inside the registry would more than likely be a drain on our community members’ families and come at a cost to state tax payers. The Center for American Progress estimates that employment losses from people with criminal records cost the U.S. 65 billion a year in GDP. ACLU research indicates these losses in turn cost us millions in state tax payer revenue. A 2015 study by the Vera Institute of Justice found Indiana spent $517,678,909 on its jails and prisons. The researchers discovered that on average states spend sixty-eight percent of their expenditures on prisons for personnel costs, leaving one to wonder if this isn’t a state jobs program for the penal system being backed by tax payers rather than a public safety measure.
Felony Registry Likely to Have the Opposite of the Intended Effect
Cutting off ex-felons from these crucial economic sectors and isolating them otherwise by stigma could compel recidivism instead of deter crime. The 1993 Report of National Task Force on Criminal History Disposition Reporting found over two thirds of arrestees are rearrested within three years. National Employment Law Project research suggests that employment is the single most important factor in decreasing recidivism. Rather than promoting public safety, Head’s registry would be one more additional hurtle for felons to clear in order to secure employment, increasing the likelihood they will reoffend and thereby placing our communities at a greater risk.
Felony Registry Is Plain Unjust
As the Heritage Foundation points out, such collateral consequences restrict former offenders from exercising their constitutional rights. Even operating under the harshest theory of retributive justice, it is impossible to see this as a balancing of accounts. This is the state over-extending its reach to encourage our community members to enact extrajudicial punitive measures outside of the range of the courts. Head’s felony registry is not only in opposition to Hoosier values, it’s in opposition to the very idea that justice weighs her scales fairly.