Growing population of felons prompts criminal justice reforms

On Behalf of | Dec 12, 2018 | Felonies

People in South Carolina and elsewhere face lifelong consequences when authorities convict them of felonies. Even if their sentences apply probation instead of prison time, the people experience ongoing problems with obtaining work and housing. In some states, felony records cling to 10 to 15 percent of the adult population. This burgeoning felon population nationwide has inspired some states to look at ways of reducing felony convictions after increases over the past decades caused by the reclassification of some crimes from misdemeanors to felonies.

Some proposals recommend raising the value of stolen goods that qualify for felony theft charges to reflect inflation. Other approaches to easing the lifelong burdens placed on convicted felons concern their employment and housing opportunities. A new law in one state granted them the ability to get occupational licenses, and another reform granted landlords legal immunity if they would rent homes to convicted felons.

These modest reforms recognize the problems that an aggressive criminal justice system has wrought since 1980. Tougher drug laws that elevated drug possession to felonies in the 1980s and 1990s have contributed significantly to the number of felons. Before 1980, the country had about 2 million people held behind bars, on parole or on probation. By 2007, this population had exploded to 7 million.

With the criminal justice system only slowly recognizing its excesses, a person might want the advice of an attorney familiar with felonies after an arrest. Legal advice could protect a person from entering a guilty plea without understanding defense options. Even when evidence appears valid, an attorney could still strive to negotiate a plea deal that might reduce the charges and penalties. Questionable evidence might give an attorney an opportunity to cast doubt among jury members and win an acquittal at trial.