A recent Portland Press Herald article featured the story of Thomas Schoolcraft, a New Hampshire man whose request for pardon of his felony conviction was denied last Wednesday by New Hampshire’s Executive Council.
At the age of 19, Schoolcraft committed nine home burglaries, pled guilty and served nine months behind bars. After his release, he went on to get a high school equivalency degree; graduated from Keene State College with a major in criminal justice and following an internship with Cheshire County House of Corrections Superintendent, was hired as a correctional officer at the Cheshire County Jail.
Then, after working in the jail for two years, he decided to pursue his master’s degree in criminology at Boston University. By all standards it would seem that Schoolcraft was nicely setting himself up for a bright career in corrections.
However, his criminal record precludes him from holding most law enforcement position including serving as a prison guard or probation and parole officer with the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. Despite his exemplary education and experience, a felony conviction from nearly a decade before makes it impossible for Schoolcraft to advance within his chosen career.
Schoolcraft’s sad story reminds us that prison over-crowding is just one of the consequences of mass incarceration. While in order to repay his debt to society, our legal system deemed Schoolcraft needed to spend nine months behind bars, the time he spent in jail was only part of his sentence. Instead, Schoolcraft will be dealing with the consequences of his contact with the criminal justice system for the rest of his life.
And unfortunately, Schoolcraft is just one of millions of former offenders facing the life-long implications of a criminal record. Across our country former offenders are barred from accessing public housing and other benefits, are ineligible to receive federal student aid, will –like Schoolcraft – face employment discrimination, and in all but two states are denied their right to vote.
Schoolcraft’s story also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the ultimate goals of our correction system. Is it, as stated in the name to “correct” behavior we deem as harmful to society with the ultimate goal of rehabilitation? Or is it, as with the case of Thomas Schoolcraft, purely punitive, where a person’s punishment for past mistakes will follow them for their entire life.