Darrell Padgett has skills useful in today’s job market in West Virginia. He has an associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration.
When the McDowell County resident speaks he is thoughtful, articulate and polite. He can show prospective employers a letter from former President Barack Obama praising his accomplishments against substantial obstacles.
However, Padgett has trouble finding work because he is a convicted felon.
Padgett was released from prison in 2012 after serving 20 years for selling a small amount of crack-cocaine, and now, despite turning his life around and getting two degrees, Padgett’s status as a convicted felon dramatically limits his opportunities to return to the workforce.
This year the West Virginia Legislature is considering the Second Chance Employment Act (SB 76). The bill provides an avenue for some nonviolent felony offenders to have their criminal records expunged.
“I think it’s critical to getting people back to work,” said Lida Shepherd of American Friends Service Committee on Talkline Thursday. “We have more felons now than we have ever had. It’s an issue of how can someone really get back on the right track if they are denied employment.”
Some lawmakers are leary of wiping the slate clean, leaving employers unable to know the full history of a person they are about to hire. For example, wouldn’t it be reasonable for an employer to want to know that a job applicant for a position in the business office had been convicted of embezzlement?
But supporters point out there are a number of safeguards in the bill.
The bill excludes from consideration individuals convicted of a felony involving violence, use of weapon or involving a child. The felon is not eligible for expungement until five years after completing their sentence, during which they need to maintain a clean record.
The applicant must petition the court for expungement and the burden of proof falls on the individual to demonstrate to a judge that they have stayed out of trouble and “by his or her behavior since the conviction or convictions evidenced that he or she has rehabilitated and is law-abiding.”
It’s impossible to guarantee that all of the felons who gain expungement will always be model citizens, but the provisions of the bill provide a high standard felons must meet before they can clear their name.
We are efficient in West Virginia at putting people in jail, but rehabilitation is a more complicated matter. Part of our strategy to avoid excessive recidivism should be the opportunity for a second chance.