Ex-offenders ask lawmakers to give them a 'second chance'by Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio,
Sunny Thao, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Earlier in life, Charmanique Cox was convicted of selling drugs and served prison time. She now has a job helping people who have been released from prison find job opportunities.
"I know how people feel like to be shut out from the rest of society because of a past mistake," said Cox, 33, an employment facilitator at Emerge Community Development. "I think everybody needs a second chance."
Dozens of ex-offenders like Cox gathered at the State Capitol on Monday to urge lawmakers to make it easier for people like them to find jobs and access housing.
During a rally in the rotunda, members of the Second Chance Coalition said those who have committed crimes in Minnesota shouldn't have to continue to face punishment after they've been released from prison.
"When does it end?" said Marvin Clark, program manager at Emerge Community Development. "Stop prosecuting ex-offenders and let them go on with their lives."
Clark, a former drug addict who served jail time, said he hopes lawmakers will consider changing laws in favor of giving people with mental illnesses or who are addicted to drugs access to treatment rather than jail time.
Several legislators stopped by the rally to offer their support. Earlier, at a news conference the coalition held, Democratic Sen. Mee Moua of St. Paul said she plans this year to hear several bills the coalition supports. Moua is chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The legislation includes limiting public access to juvenile criminal records, expanding the types of criminal records that can be sealed and require any new criminal justice legislation to take into account whether it will disproportionately affect certain racial groups.
Moua said technology and the Internet make it harder for offenders to move on with their lives after they've served out their sentences. Even records that are supposed to be sealed continue to cause problems for ex-offenders as they apply for jobs and housing, she said.
"A second chance is not about being soft on crime, it's about rights," Moua said. "We have a criminal justice system that believes in rehabilitation."
Elizabeth Dunbar is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.