Recently released felons face several challenges when attempting to integrate back into society. Unfortunately, their past convictions mean they often carry an unwanted stigma, making it difficult for others to trust them.
This, in turn, means that many felons find it difficult to settle once they’re released from prison. Thankfully, some states are more friendly to felons than others, meaning that a convicted felon has options.
Here, we reveal some of the most felon-friendly states and examine what makes them good choices. But before looking at the states, it’s important to understand the specific challenges felons face when reintegrating into society.
What Challenges Do Felons Face?
The stigma that hangs over the heads of former felons manifests in several ways.
Felons may find it difficult to achieve gainful employment as many employers are wary of the perceived reputational damage that hiring a felon can bring.
It’s also difficult for felons to find affordable housing, especially as there are no laws to prevent landlords from denying a potential tenant based on their past convictions.
Did you know? Though landlords can refuse to rent to a felon in most cases, it is against federal law to discriminate against somebody who has a felony conviction for drug use. However, those with convictions for drug manufacture or sale are not included in this exemption.
Educational challenges also face felons as they re-enter society. One study, which examined 1,300 inmates, found that about 30% of them did not have a GED or high school diploma. This is more than double the national average of 14%. Those without these qualifications may find that many potential career paths are shut off to them.
Finally, many states ban former felons from voting. These bans lead to disengagement as former felons may feel that they have no say in what’s happening in their chosen state.
The combination of these four key challenges makes it more difficult for a felon to become a productive member of society. Fewer job and housing opportunities lead to a lack of stability. A ban on voting means the felon may feel that they can’t participate in political discourse. Finally, the lack of a GED or diploma can further limit a felon’s job prospects.
Which States Help Felons Overcome These Challenges?
In creating a list of the most felon-friendly states, we must look for those that help felons overcome the challenges they face. The following are states that have measures in place to do that.
State No. 1 – California
California is a felon-friendly state because it places fewer limitations than most on the jobs that a felon can work. With a few exceptions, such as certain positions in health care and the state justice department, a felon can apply for any job in the state.
Felons do not face salary caps and are also protected by several laws that determine how an employer acts when hiring a felon.
These include a seven-year rule, which prevents employers from looking more than seven years into an applicant’s conviction history when conducting background checks.
California also has strong “Ban the Box” laws, which prevent employers from asking about the candidate’s criminal history before the employer makes a conditional offer. These laws also offer former felons the chance to appeal any job refusal.
The state also has fair housing laws. These laws require landlords to obtain written consent from a potential tenant before they conduct a background check.
Landlords can still refuse to rent to a felon in most cases. However, they cannot create blanket policies that lead to the automatic refusal of a felon. Each tenant must be considered individually to ensure the landlord does not discriminate, intentionally or otherwise.
Education is also accessible in California. The state has many programs in place to help felons to earn a degree and find work. These include, but aren’t limited to, the Jail to Jobs Program, The National HIRE Network, and Second Chance.
Finally, the California Assembly Bill AB2466 signed into law in 2016 gives the right to vote to felons who have completed their sentences and any related probationary periods. Those still on parole must wait until their parole ends.
State No. 2 – Kansas
Kansa gains a place on our list because of its Risk Reduction and Reentry Plan (RRRP). Designed to reduce recidivism, this plan helps felons to make a safe transition from prison life and into normal society.
This plan has 20 goals, all of which are designed to keep the former felon out of prison. These goals start simply, including reducing revocations from parole supervision and helping felons to find housing. They then extend to helping the felon find employment and transportation, in addition to offering more targeted help for issues like substance abuse.
Did you know? The RRRP has enabled 50% of felons who are considered high risk in terms of employment and education to find a job within 30 days of their release. Furthermore, this 50% of felons also stay employed for at least 6 months with the same company.
The RRRP is boosted by the efforts of various grant programs and education providers. For example, Second Chance cooperates with the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission to offer job readiness training and help with finding housing. There are also several grant programs available to felons, including the $5,000 Boots to Business Grant.
Kansas also allows felons to regain their voting rights once they’re completed their sentences. Assuming the felon is not on parole or probation, they can register to vote at a post office, DMV location, or by downloading a registration form online.
A seven-year rule, similar to California’s, is also in place in Kansas. However, felons have a salary cap of $20,000 per year in the state.
State No. 3 – Nevada
Like California and Kansas, Nevada has a seven-year limit in place for criminal background checks. Furthermore, the state has no salary caps, meaning there are no limits on a felon’s earning potential. However, there are no laws preventing businesses from using a felony conviction as a reason not to hire somebody.
Still, felons have several options in the job market, with major employers like UPS having been known to hire felons in Nevada. The state also allows felons to start their own businesses.
While landlords must operate under fair housing guidelines in the state, they do have the right to refuse to rent to a felon.
However, there are several programs available to help people to find felon-friendly housing options. One example is Hope for Prisoners, which maintains a list of felon-friendly housing and offers direct support to those looking for a permanent residence.
Nevada stands out from the other states on this list in regards to its voting laws. The state allows any felon who has completed their prison to vote, even if they’re on probation or parole.
Furthermore, this right to vote is automatically instated upon the felon’s release. Felons may still need to re-register to vote if their registration was canceled when they were convicted.
Felon education is also a key concern in the state, with many organizations offering educational programs. The previously mentioned Hope for Prisoners has several services, including financial training. WestCare offers vocational training while RISE provides several educational and employment programs.
State No. 4 – Texas
As with the other states in this list, Texas has a seven-year restriction in place for criminal background checks.
Unfortunately, the state does have a salary cap. However, this is set at $75,000, meaning felons can find well-paying employment without too many issues. The state also offers several resources to help felons get back into work, including Website for Work and Fidelity Bonding.
The latter offers fidelity bonding services at no charge to help employers feel more comfortable about hiring a felon.
Did you know? A fidelity bond is a form of insurance that employers take out to protect themselves against theft and fraud. This insurance can also protect against the loss of customer money, equipment, and personal belongings. Fidelity Bonding offers this insurance for free, meaning employers can benefit from it while protecting themselves.
Finding housing may prove more of a challenge in the state. Many large apartment complexes have blanket bans in place for felons, making it unlikely that you’ll be able to rent in these buildings.
This does not mean that resources aren’t available. A felon can contact their local housing authority or U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office to discuss living arrangements. Many faith-based organizations also have programs to help felons get relocated.
TransitionalHousing.org can also help felons by providing temporary accommodation while they search for something more permanent.
Similar to Nevada, Texas reinstates a felon’s right to vote when they have completed their sentence. Unlike Nevada, a felon must also complete any parole or probation before they can register.
If you attempt to vote while on parole or probation, you are committing a crime under Texas law.
Finally, there are several programs designed to help felons in Texas with educational concerns.
The most prominent is The Texas Offenders Re-Entry Initiative (T.O.R.I). It offers training programs, helps with housing, and assistance with jobs. T.O.R.I also helps felons to create attractive résumés and work on their interview skills.
Reintegrating In To Society
The four states listed here have one thing in common. They each provide ample resources and opportunities for felons as they re-enter society. Though each differs in terms of specific laws, each is a felon-friendly state that has programs in place to reduce re-offending.
When making a choice, felons must consider what they need from their new home. If voting rights are the individual’s most significant concern, Nevada may be the best choice. This state also benefits from having no salary caps.
However, California may be a better state for somebody who wants to explore various career options. If the former felon believes they’ll need more help integrating into society, both Kansas and Texas offer an array of educational programs and resources.