No one makes it through life without regrets. The split-second decision we wish we could take back, the risk we never should have taken, the people we failed to prioritize—these are the moments that open our eyes to our need for a fresh start. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a second chance.
Right now, there are 22,401 adults in Alabama’s prison system. Ninety percent or more of these men and women will be released after paying their debt to society. When they are, they will find second chances hard to come by. This is not only an issue in Alabama. It is estimated that 65 million Americans—or one in four adults—have a criminal record.
Everyone makes mistakes in life, so each of us deserves a second chance. That’s why our legislature resolved that April would be Second Chance Month in Alabama. This resolution is another step in the effort to reform our prison system. It’s time for our state to begin removing unnecessary barriers for people who have paid for their crimes.
The Council of State Governments has found that returning citizens face more than 48,000 legal barriers to housing, education, employment, and more. Shouldn’t we want people to get a job and become law abiding taxpaying citizens? Preventing former inmates from getting a job just doesn’t make sense.
Then there’s the long shadow of a criminal record. Men and women who have a criminal record face social stigma from others in their communities, and the shame associated with spending time in prison. They have a difficult time finding a place to live, getting a driver’s license, or insuring a vehicle. Many businesses write off an applicant with criminal background regardless of whether they have paid their debt and done everything that has been asked of them.
Christians believe in loving their neighbors by treating them the way we would wish to be treated ourselves. If you faced rebuilding a life, including your career and relationships, you would want someone to offer you a second chance—not because they pity you, but because they value you as a fellow person. Jesus didn’t turn anyone away, no matter what bad decisions they had made in the past. We can learn from that lesson. It’s harder to extend love and chances to people when they have fallen, but the reality is we have all fallen in different ways.
Alabama is ready to start unlocking second chances for people with a criminal record, because our state’s citizens understand the costs of a high recidivism rate. If we truly want to lower our recidivism and crime rates, let’s give people a fair opportunity to get back on their feet. It’s much cheaper to help someone find a job than to reincarcerate them.
Remember, the vast majority of incarcerated men and women in our state will be released. Unlocking second chances saves taxpayers money and reduces the recidivism rate by keeping men and women out of prison, stimulates the economy by getting former prisoners back to work, and develops safer, flourishing communities.
Let’s build a culture of second chances in Alabama that reflects the God-given dignity and potential of all individuals.
Cam Ward, a Republican, represents the 14th District in the Alabama State Senate.