Courier Journal Response: Rand Paul explains his views on restoring felon rights
As a U.S. senator for Kentucky, I believe it is my job to seek solutions for all Kentuckians. To find solutions for problems facing West Louisville, my staff holds office hours for constituents twice a month at the Plymouth Community Renewal Center and the Justice Resource Center, and I have been meeting with community leaders and citizens. At my most recent meeting last Monday, we discussed the lasting challenges facing families as a result of excesses in our criminal justice system.In an effort to look "tough on crime," politicians have imposed mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders. These sentences have had the perverse and unjust effect of putting young people who make stupid decisions, usually because of drugs, in jail for a decade or more.
As I discussed in my testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, some mandatory minimum sentences don't fit the crime. For example, John Horner was a 46-year-old father of three who sold prescription painkillers to a friend. His friend was a police informant and Horner received a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in jail. Another man, Weldon Angelos, was a 24-year-old who sold marijuana three times and received a sentence of 55 years. These two individuals will forever be branded "felons" by society with little chance of living a normal life.
After individuals have served their sentence and paid their fines, the punishment and stigma continues for the rest of their life, harming their families and hampering their ability to re-enter society. Even after going decades without committing another crime, people who are sent to prison as teenagers for a nonviolent drug offense have their civil rights restricted and their ability to get a job curtailed. They can't vote, serve on juries, qualify for many jobs, or even volunteer at their children's schools. Under Kentucky law, this situation can easily last the rest of their lives.
Despite being named "Louisvillian of the Year" by LEO, Shawn Gardner is unable to chaperone field trips with his daughter's class and unable to find employment that will sufficiently provide for his family. While he readily admits that he committed the crime for which he served time 18 years ago, he says he has had a clean record since being released from jail and he wants his life back.After completing his sentence, Shawn earned a GED, then a bachelor's degree from Ottawa University and a master's degree from Sullivan University. He has since written and published a book, and founded a nonprofit organization called 2NOT1 Fatherhood & Families Inc.
Shawn devotes time, mostly as a volunteer, to promote the safety and well-being of children by implementing strategies to keep fathers involved and families together. He works hard to contribute to society and to enrich his daughters' lives, and, after 18 years of proving his rehabilitation, he asks this simple question: Shouldn't there be an end to the time he has to check the felon box on job applications and school volunteer applications?
Fathers are often trapped in the cycle of poverty and unfair sentences when they accumulate thousands of dollars of child support while in jail. Often, such fathers are imprisoned again because they can't pay the child support that accumulated while they were in jail. Such failure to pay child support is a felony and prevents these individuals from ever voting again. I want to change that.
We are working at the local, state, and federal level to find solutions to these problems. This is not a partisan issue - it is about helping people get their lives back on track, about enabling them to provide for their families, about breaking the cycle of violence and poverty.
We should all strive to achieve that end. However, it appears that the editors of The Courier-Journal would rather no one know that is what we are trying to achieve. The news article about my most recent visit to the Plymouth Community Renewal Center did a fair and thorough job reporting on the event, but you would never know that from the headline attached by the editors.
Similarly, an editorial in Wednesday's Courier-Journal implies that my goal was guns for all felons.
Absolutely, untrue. Our discussion at the Plymouth Center was about the restoration of all rights for nonviolent felons, who have not committed any more crimes. The discussion centered on their desire to vote, work, and fully participate in the lives of their children - not about their gun rights.
Second Amendment rights are indeed among the civil rights restricted for rehabilitated nonviolent offenders, but so is the right to vote and, as an unintended consequence, so is the right to pursue happiness through gainful employment. While all of these important topics were discussed at last Monday's event, it appears the editors would rather no one know that.