The Mississippi Free Press: A Chance To Live: Engaging Business Community, Restorative Justice To Reduce Incarceration

After applying for 43 vacancies in northern Mississippi and being denied every one of them after his time in prison, former Columbus, Miss., Councilman Kamal Karriem is now advocating for the business community to open its doors to people like him as a measure against recidivism.

“Now, because of my criminality and stigma that society has put on me, I can’t even get a job frying chicken,” he said at an online event. “I had to roll barbecue grills many days on street corners—selling barbecue, washing cars, doing whatever I could do because I could not be hired despite my college education because of criminality, even though I had served my time.”

In 2005, while a councilman, Karriem pleaded guilty to embezzlement for lending someone a city-owned cell phone. After the person ran up a $500 bill, Karriem spent two years in prison and eight years on parole.

“People that have already done their time, they’ve already served their time. Why should they be punished for the remainder of their lives and be treated as a second-class citizen and be ostracized from places in society?” he asked during an Oct. 27 virtual workshop titled “Criminal Justice in Mississippi; Where We Are and Where We Need to Be.”

One Voice Mississippi organized the event at its annual Mississippi Black Leadership Summit. Matthew Campbell, community organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Mississippi, moderated the workshop.Karriem joined 16th Circuit Court Assistant District Attorney Trina Davidson-Brooks and Vera Institute Outreach Associate Sarah Minion for the conservation. The 16th Circuit covers the 200,000 people in Lowndes, Oktibbeha Clay and Noxubee counties.


‘They Can Still Be a Citizen’

Trina Davidson-Brooks said assisting the formerly incarcerated is vital so that they can break the cycle of criminality, rather than return to it when they cannot find employment. Businesses need to hire people with criminal records to build a better community, she added.

Mississippi has a 33% three-year recidivism rate and a 77% rate for five years, indicates. The recidivism rate is the percentage of prisoners who, after their release, return to prison because they have committed another crime. Mississippi has the second-highest incarceration rate in the United States at 638 per 100,000, following Louisiana.

“Even though they paid their ‘debt to society,’ they still have to live, and they can still be a citizen in our community,” Davidson-Brooks said. “They made a mistake; that mistake does not have to enslave them for the rest of their life.”

In 2015, the City of Jackson, Miss., instituted the “ban the box” initiative and stopped asking job applicants about prior felonies during the initial steps of the hiring process, Human Resources Director Toya Martin told the Mississippi Free Press in an emailed statement on Wednesday, Nov. 3. “However, we do notify candidates that if they are selected for hire, they will have to undergo a background and drug test,” she added.

Fifteen states have mandated the removal of conviction-history questions from job applications for private employers: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The National Employment Law Project, which reported that data, said 37 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted the measure.

Read the full article at The Mississippi Free Press

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