In a shift from the “tough on crime” rhetoric of years past, some Maryland lawmakers are questioning whether the state has gone overboard in punishing ex-offenders long after they have paid their dues and returned to the street. “Restorative justice is the movement we’re hearing about,” said Del. Brett R. Wilson, a prosecutor and Western Maryland Republican who supports some efforts to help ex-offenders get jobs. “It’s gained momentum over the years. There’s no doubt about that.” The General Assembly is considering bills that would make it easier for some former offenders to have their records expunged or to at least shield records from potential employers and landlords. Another measure would restore voting rights to felons much sooner than under current law.
Advocates contend that many people have trouble finding jobs and housing decades after arrests — even if they weren’t convicted — and that preventing felons from voting makes it more difficult for them to rejoin society.
“You absolutely have people with minor offenses that are coming up for them decades later,” said Michelle Rodriguez, senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Center. She said about 70 million Americans have criminal records hindering job opportunities.