To put it plainly, there’s more to a felony conviction than just going to prison. Sure, that’s the most damaging consequence…but it doesn’t end there. So how does having a felony affect your life after prison? Maybe a better question is, how does it NOT affect your life! Nearly every aspect of an individual’s existence is directly or indirectly impacted by a felony conviction…and never in a good way. Sorry to be candid, but there’s no upshot to being a convicted felon. So let’s dig in to some of the concrete repercussions…or what we might call collateral consequences.
How Does a Felony Affect Your Life?
What we’re concerned with here are things like employ-ability, obtainment of suitable housing, the ability to travel, the effect on credit and loans, and, last but not least, the wide range of forfeit of civil rights.
Some felons have committed alarmingly violent crimes or been involved in crimes of murder, arson and rape. While other felons have committed much less serious crimes like theft or distribution.
In one form or other, the court deems these persons to generally be unfit to live in normal society, at least for a period of time. And when a felon finally is let out, either on probation or parole, they face a few large obstacles as they attempt to reintegrate back into the local community.
For starters, they face the obstacle of having a criminal record. And that’s no mole hill, that’s a mountain for some. The sheer social stigmas associated with that can be devastating, unless their status isn’t public. No ex-con walks around wearing a sign or a scarlet letter on their jacket, but nonetheless, many times a felon’s conviction is well known in the local area due to media exposure.
And then they face the obstacle of having their legal freedoms curbed, as we’ll look at in a moment. Things like being unable to possess a firearm or even go to a shooting range, work around young or old persons; these may be lawful limitations placed on a felon. But in some cases, these social and lawful obstacles seem to overlap, so it is important for a felon to understand the difference between when they lawfully being discriminated against versus when any discrimination is unlawful.
Let’s look at employment to see an example of what I mean…
Employment With a Felony Record
Felons are typically expected to get a job upon release (often a condition of parole) from prison. Even if they were not, common sense would dictate they’ll need to find work in order to survive and pay the bills!
But having a felony conviction on your record can prohibit a person from working in many career areas. In fact, many companies have strict hiring policies regarding felons.
That said, state and federal government lawmakers understand the conundrum this puts felons in. Felons are human being; they must be able to work, yet are barred from many careers, thus severely limiting their ability to find a job in an already highly-competitive job market.
But if a felon cannot find work, what happens? In many cases, exactly what one might expect…the may turn back to crime in order to earn a living. Thus, the felon is now once again a criminal, and may, if busted, face additional (and harsher) prison time if convicted again. It’s a cycle that all too many convicts fall into, and lawmakers take different stances on the topic of how to deal with the problem.
But politics aside, it’s a fact: felons face a high degree of difficulty landing good-paying jobs once they are back in the community.
Every state has different applicable laws, and these laws dictate to companies the requirements involved when considering a job application from a felony. Strict rules exist for companies to comply with, else they face a charge of unlawful discrimination if they exclude a felon without legal justification. So it is useful at times for a felon to become educated about what a hiring manager can or cannot take into consideration.
They cannot, for instance, have a blanket exclusion policy. If the company is involved with the trucking industry, then of course by business necessity that hiring manager will be allowed to screen for felons who were involved in vehicular crimes, such as drinking and driving. That is basic risk management. But they cannot simply claim, “Sorry, we don’t hire felons, period.”
Housing and Felons
Let’s be real. Many landlords don’t want a felon living in their property. And many neighbors don’t want to live around convicted felons. By the same token, a sole felon living in a neighborhood full of non-felons may feel “out of place” sometimes. There are many psychological impacts associated with being a convicted felon, and how those persons feel living among persons who’ve never so much as littered or ran a red light. This falls under the term of disenfranchisement.
So what sometimes happens is that a felon, either because they cannot find a “nice neighborhood” to live in, or because they don’t feel comfortable there, often move into lower income areas…and there, they accumulate and may begin to interact and influence each other in less than positive ways.
Statistically, when an area has a higher number of felons living there it can have a net effect of higher crime rates. And yet, as discussed above, felons may end up being segregated from the rest of society and therefore get “stuck” in an environment where they have to “play along to get along.” Criminal behavior can quickly ensue.
What’s the solution? To start, a felon should overcome any feelings of not belonging in a good neighborhood, if that’s something which is bothering them. Unless there is a specific requirement restricting them from living in a certain area (such as not being able to live near a school zone), then a felon should apply for housing with an expectation that they will receive fair consideration.
Will they? No, not always.
And discrimination by a property manager or landlord can be hard to prove, but not impossible. It pays to simply have a frank discussion with the person or agency reviewing your application. Present yourself as a person, not just a piece of paper or a few rows of data on a screen. If you can go in in-person, do it. If not, at least try to do a phone conversation.
If several housing applications have been rejected, you may suspect discrimination. If so, it might be time to consult a qualified attorney to step in on your behalf. Yes, lawyers can be costly, but securing a suitable home environment is a long-term investment and is generally worth spending the money on. And of course, if discrimination is a factor, you might find yourself in a situation where a property manager is willing to negotiate out of court, maybe by offering a free month’s rent or two. It can happen!
An alternative is to consider public housing, and we’ve got a post all about that, too!
Financial Effects of a felony
As we discussed in a previous article, there are often huge fines and restitution payments to be made by felons. These debts can take years to pay off, if they even can be paid off. So a felon may find themselves in a situation of being released from prison, unable to find a job paying more than minimum wage, and now looking at several thousand dollars in debts they owe. Not an ideal way to start a new life.
Fines, of course, are paid directly to the government itself, whereas restitution is paid to the victims. If a felon cannot make those payments, well…usually the government doesn’t forgive a debt, but they may “forgive” a restitution payment. If that happens, the victim has the option to sue for the remainder of the amount owed. And if that happens, a lawsuit can end up adding additional fees onto the debt, making it even harder to pay off.
In a nutshell, there is no simple fix when it comes to the financial effects of a felony.
Many felons will attempt to take out bank loans or use credit cards to pay down debt, but it should be noted that banks consider a felon to be very high risk.
Credit scores are usually tanked, and if a felon can get a loan, it will not be at a very favorable interest rate in many cases. Meanwhile, “legal” payday lenders and illegal loan sharks exploit felons (and everyone else in financial need), usually only exacerbating an already bad situation. A payday lender can charge up to 390 to 780% APR, versus a standard credit card rate of 12 to 30% interest (sometimes much lower).
No matter how the felon gets a loan, that person may be paying more each month on interest and less towards the principal amount of the loan or credit amount.
In other words, the debt gets deeper and in some situations, it may even be growing if you can only make minimum payments. Some felons are forced into bankruptcy, thus killing their credit for years and making it even harder to find housing, because they are deemed too risky.
So many of the financial effects of a felony affect each other. In other words, it’s all connected…which is why it is so important to get a handle on your finances as soon as possible.
Curbs and Restrictions on Behavior
As mentioned in other posts, many felons are either on probation (released in lieu of prison time, in some cases, but still supervised by an agency) or on parole (released from prison early, to finish the sentence under supervision on the outside). Either way, the felon has to report in if they are being actively supervised. They are not yet deemed entirely trustworthy and therefore not given freedom to go where they want or do what they want. For the sake of community safety, they are essentially on an invisible leash (and sometimes on house arrest, with a mandatory ankle monitor for electronic tab-keeping).
During this period, they’ll be monitored for signs of drug or alcohol use, too. They can’t change their address without permission, they may not even be able to leave the state and almost certainly cannot travel outside the United States.
In the meantime, any small further crime can have a detrimental effect on the limited freedoms they have…thus a released felon is constantly living on edge, concerned about making another mistake which could instantly land them back behind bars. Most of us are not overly concerned about such things, but for a felon with a strike or two against them, the consequences of another infraction are significantly magnified.
Stripped of Constitutional Rights
Apart from the above limitations of freedom, felons also have their Constitutional rights to vote in some states taken away. Some states only restrict the right to vote during the prison term, others require a completion of the sentence (including probation/parole) and others only allow for restoration of the right to vote after successful petition by the felon.
Felons also lose the right to be around or to possess a gun and many other types of weapons. In some cases, these rights can also be restored via a petition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. This is by no means a simple process, nor a guaranteed one.
Depending on the nature of the crime, a parent may lose their rights related to their own children (obviously if there was child abuse of some sort involved). Adopting a child with a felony can also be difficult but not impossible.
They can’t serve on jury duty, either (though most probably would not want to).
This article cannot possibly cover every aspect of how a felony conviction impacts a person’s life, but we do try to cover some of the big areas.
It’s impossible to go back in time and change the past, but being able to predict the challenges one will face in the future can always help you prepare for them and, with persistence and patience, hopefully overcome them one by one. We hope this answers your question “How Does a Felony Affect Your Life.”