In his September 30 op-ed in the Huffington Post, “All Americans Deserve a Chance to Rebuild Their Lives,” Legal Action Center’s Director and President Paul Samuels lays out some of the most serious barriers that “confront millions of people with criminal records that include drug offenses.” In addition to barriers to employment that make it harder for people to find or keep a job, “sanctions against people with drug convictions also create obstacles to education, housing and public benefits — the very things we know reduce recidivism and make communities safer, healthier and better places to live.”
To begin to eliminate the worst obstacles, Samuels calls on Congress to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, REAL Act, and REDEEM Act to improve education opportunities for people with criminal records, eliminate harmful barriers to public benefits, and make it easier for them to compete for jobs and support their families.
Samuels is hopeful that significant changes to the criminal justice system and our nation’s approach to drugs are on the way:
“A bi-partisan coalition in the U.S. Congress is now pushing for serious reform of our justice system — with support from both the Koch brothers and President Obama — which institutionalizes the warehousing of millions of people and treats substance use as a crime deserving jail time rather than a health disorder needing treatment.”
He writes that for this new wave of reforms to be successful, policymakers must eliminate unreasonable criminal record barriers so that people with criminal records “are not confronted with insurmountable barriers to employment, education, housing, health care and other necessities.”
According to Samuels:
“Once Americans with substance use disorders pay their debts to society, they deserve a chance to rebuild their lives. Ultimately it is in this country’s interest to help them to do so. To make that possible, we need to eliminate harmful criminal record barriers and restore their civil rights and liberties.”
The op-ed, available here in its entirety, is part of a series produced by facingaddiction.org, in conjunction with their event Unite to Face Addiction (Sunday, Oct. 4, National Mall, Washington, D.C.). The series is also part of The Huffington Post’s “What’s Working” solutions-oriented journalism initiative.