Beyond Amendment 4: Ex-felons need help restoring lives, not just voting rights | Opinion
The decisive victory for Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida, is a big win for American democracy, yet the problems of 17-20 million formerly incarcerated Americans extend far beyond restoring their right to vote. The list is long: employer hiring bias, ex-felons’ lack of skills, poverty and homelessness, health and mental-health problems, difficulties making friends and finding housing, the dearth of good “re-entry” programs, the likelihood of substance abuse, and their frequent inability to reconnect with wives, children, and other family. Some states even prohibit ex-prisoners’ access to safety net programs and licenses to work.
Getting the vote is one thing, but getting a life can be impossible.
This is primarily a men’s problem, as about 90 percent of inmates are male. These men are very much on the sidelines of American life, and getting back on the playing field is extremely tough.
One ex-felon who I interviewed for my new book, Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life, lives in a rundown New York boarding house above a school, where people sleep in the halls and showers. He has appealed his conviction for years. He told me that he has no friends and that his diabetes is “out of control.”