YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – When you commit a crime, you pay the consequences. But how long do those consequences have to last?
Studies show in 2016, more than 23 million Americans had a felony record. Having this type of record can affect a person who is trying to move forward and be a productive member of society.
“I got my felony five years ago. I’m just now getting into a position to where they’re making it easier to get jobs and to be able to take care of yourself without just making, you know, minimum wage,” said Brittany Gray.
Gray was sentenced to five years probation after receiving a felony 5 for a theft charge in 2014. She says it took her four years to find a good-paying job, but having this record is still something that she says she will always have to worry about.
“When people with felonies say they can’t get jobs, they don’t mean it literally. They can get a job, but that doesn’t mean they can take care of themselves. A lot of people with felonies have families, and they have real bills… Minimum wage is not going to take care of all of that,” Gray said.
A lack of access to higher-paying careers leads many people to work multiple low-paying jobs.
“Most of the time on the application, that’s what gets a lot of people, because you kind of want to say no, but you don’t want them to find out. So, you get to a point where you just look for the jobs that don’t do background checks. At that point, it doesn’t even matter what it is,” Gray said.
Recently, local lawmakers proposed a bill that would make it easier to remove felonies from records.
If this bill is passed, depending on the severity of the crime, offenders could file for expungement 10 to 20 years after a crime was committed.
Gray feels people with felony records deserve a chance to move forward from their mistakes without fear of being forced into a cycle.
“All of these great companies that need people, but they won’t hire felons. So, it’s like y’all would rather not fill up these positions than to give it to somebody who potentially made a mistake one time,” she said.
A 2018 report shows that across 30 states, 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years. Gray said a part of that is due to the difficulties of reentering the workforce.
“It’s definitely a cycle to keep a particular group of people where they want to keep them,” she said.
Jobs are not the only thing affected when you have a felony record.
Many states refuse felons the right to vote. In fact, in 2016, 6.1 million Americans could not vote due to a felony conviction.
In some cases, you cannot obtain a passport or purchase a firearm if you have a felony.
Gray said it may be tough, but she is staying positive and wants others to do the same.
“Do not go backward, ‘cause once you go backward, you’re just digging yourself in a deeper hole,” she said.