A proposal to give San Francisco businesses a one-time tax break of up to $10,125 for hiring a felon cleared the Board of Supervisors’ budget committee today on a 2-1 vote and now moves to the full board for consideration.
“This piece of legislation is crime prevention and public safety-oriented,” said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, the plan’s chief sponsor and the city’s sheriff-elect. “It is aimed at reducing the repeat-offender rate — recidivism — which is in the range of 65 to 70 percent in San Francisco.”
He said that studies have shown a dramatic drop in offenders being re-incarcerated if they get a job within a year of their release from jail.
San Francisco would not be the first city to try this. Philadelphia enacted a similar tax credit in 2007, but has had very limited success in convincing employers to participate. Mirkarimi said that for such a program to succeed here, there must be robust outreach to the business community.
The legislation has been endorsed by the city’s public defender, sheriff and adult and juvenile probation departments, as well as the Small Business Commission.
What could possibly go wrong?
Off the top of my head, how about:
1. Theft, robbery, and even killings of some employers foolish enough to participate in this scheme.
2. Ditto for unfortunate co-workers of the newly-hired felons.
3. And ditto -- more theft, robbery and killings -- for some customers of business establishments that hire felons. This law will put ex-cons in proximity to unsuspecting members of the public One example of what can happen::
Lynn Jefferson brought up the recent case of Gary Scott Holland, a Fresno County parolee released to San Francisco who earlier this month pleaded guilty to first degree murder for the bludgeoning death of 46-year-old Kathleen “Kate” Horan in her Russian Hill apartment on Oct. 29, 2010. Holland, who was working for a cement company at the time, posed as a utility worker looking for a gas leak to gain entry to her home. Holland previously had been convicted of attempted murder.
Even if the program is limited to "non-violent felons," as some have proposed, what sort of habits and values do you suppose these felons were exposed to before and during their time in prison? And what are the odds that their felony conviction(s) is/are the sum total of the crimes they have committed? It's a naive view of the world to assume that a person convicted of at least one non-violent felony -- a serious offense to begin with -- has zero history of violent crime for which they were not convicted, and therefore can safely be trusted in any workplace. And even those convicted of non-violent felonies can certainly end up stealing large sums from employers, co-workers, and customers.
It's also naive to assume that, because felons who are able to get jobs under current laws do not commit new crimes again as often as those who do not get jobs, this same result will hold if local government creates distorted incentives for employers to hire felons they otherwise would not hire. Currently, those felons who obtain jobs presumably are better qualified than most felons and highly motivated to get their lives back on track. They are no doubt better able to explain to employers' satisfaction why their conviction was a one-time fluke and does not mean they are untrustworthy.
4. The law may make San Francisco a magnet for ex-cons from other cities and states. Of course, just because ex-cons show up in San Francisco to seek one of those jobs-for-felons the City is trying to create does not mean they will be hired. But they may end up staying in the city, jobless. Will there be an increase in the costs to the city and state to provide other benefits to the new crop of resident felons? How much will that cost out of pocket? Nobody knows.
5. There is also a high potential for a resulting increase in serious crime in San Francisco and surrounding communities, even outside of workplaces, thanks to the swarm of new felons in the city, whether they are newly-hired, never hired once they arrive, or newly-fired after their criminal proclivities or lack of a reasonable work ethic become a problem for their employers. Hey, tourists, come ride the cable cars and see how fast you lose your wallets!
6. The law will also serve to further demoralize and penalize law-abiding citizens (some of whom are unemployed too) by rewarding law-breakers and putting law-abiding citizens at a relative disadvantage. "Affirmative action for felons" shows a lack of compassion for the innocent victims of these felons' crimes, past and future. For every felon hired to fill a job because of the program, a law-abiding citizen will be left out in the cold.
What does a guy gotta do to get ahead in this town?
Rob a bank, apparently.
Hey, future felons! -- under San Francisco's plan you win either way. Either you pull off the bank heist of the century that you've always dreamed of and flee with all the loot, or at worst you get caught and end up with years of free room and board in a fine correctional facility, followed by a guaranteed job! Basically, crime becomes a win-win proposition. (It's "win-win" for the criminal, that is. For the rest of society, not so much.)
7. This will also create yet another niche tax loophole that will be easy pickings for abuse and fraud. What a minute -- are you telling me that if we just tell the city that these guys we are hiring are all convicted felons from -- I dunno -- harder-to-check places - South Carolina? Alaska? Guam? -- we get over $10K in tax credits for every on of them, just like that?
8. It would also serve to reduce two of the disincentives to crime -- the chance that being caught and convicted will destroy one's future economic livelihood and the shame associated with a conviction.
Trying to make serious crime consequence-free by giving felons preference in getting hired is foolhardy. Felons are not members of some unfairly persecuted minority group that is excluded due to immutable personal characteristics such as skin color. They made their choices -- bad ones, very bad ones. Their status as convicted felons is, and should be, a legitimate source of shame, and a red flag to employers and members of the public. Being a convicted felon is not a legitimate cause for group pride. (Proud Ex-Con. Ask me how YOU can be a felon too.)
8. If this law is enacted, it will only serve to make San Francisco even more bizarre, dangerous, and family-unfriendly than it already is.