This opinion was co-authored by Loren Khogali and Tony Gant, the director of policy and programs operations at Nation Outside, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of formerly incarcerated persons. This submission was also signed by Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, Detroit Justice Center, Federal Community Defender for the Eastern District of Michigan, Michigan Collaboration to End Mass Incarceration, Michigan League for Public Policy, Michigan Liberation, Michigan Center for Youth Justice, Michigan Voices, American Friends Service Committee, and Safe and Just Michigan.
Last week, a member of our community with a promising legal career lost the opportunity to serve as a law clerk for the Michigan Supreme Court because concerns were raised about his decades-old conviction, for which he had accepted responsibility and served his debt to society.
As representatives of organizations dedicated to equal justice under the law, we are troubled that a member of any court in our state, let alone its highest court, would object to talented, qualified people working in our judicial system based solely on mistakes they made in their distant past.
Excluding people with convictions from employment, public service, or our legal system is inconsistent with the values of our democracy.
When people are convicted of crimes and incarcerated, they do not cease to be members of our communities. They do not cease to have children, families or ambitions that live outside the walls of jails and prisons. They do, unfortunately, face immense obstacles to resuming and rebuilding their lives, after they have completed their sentence, including those exemplified by the recent events at the Michigan Supreme Court.
After surviving a system steeped in racial and economic biases and the hardships of incarceration, people with past convictions continue to be punished through highly restrictive monitoring, surveillance, and registries (for which they are often required to pay onerous fees), not to mention severe social stigma. On top of all that, they face significant impediments when attempting to re-enter the workforce.