New felony disclosure policy subject of town hall

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - 10:44pm

Artist Martin Vargas speaks at the Carceral State roundtable discussion on criminal justice and imprisonment, in the Hatcher Gallery Wednesday evening.

Artist Martin Vargas speaks at the Carceral State roundtable discussion on criminal justice and imprisonment, in the Hatcher Gallery Wednesday evening. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

On Wednesday night, spokespeople from the Carceral State Project hosted a town hall discussion for students, faculty and community members to debate the University of Michigan’s recently announced policy, which states that affiliates who are charged or convicted of a felony have to report it within a week. The policy has sparked controversy on campus. The town hall discussion on the change followed a roundtable discussion hosted by the Carceral State Project about the intersection of incarceration in America and everyday life.

Adam, a formerly incarcerated individual who declined to provide his last name, spoke during the town hall. A potential candidate for graduate school at the University, he spent three years in prison due to a nonviolent, internet-based sex offense that occurred a decade ago. Since leaving prison, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in social work at another institution, but said he was worried about how the new policy will impact the potential to further his education at the University.

“I am fearful about this whole thing in a number of different respects,” Adam said “...Even if I was to get admitted, at the end of the road… would I even be able to get employed? Because thus far, having graduated almost a year ago, I have not been able to get into my field.”

Multiple students and faculty also brought up questions and concerns about how the policy will unfairly target minorities who are already underrepresented at the University. Some attendees said the policy could discourage them even more from applying to study and work here.

LSA sophomore Zoey Horowitz, who works with the Prison Creative Arts Project, said the policy would affect not only potential students and faculty, but all people at the University.

“We’re not only shutting out a lot of job opportunities, but even for those who have not been affected by the criminal justice system, we are stopping a lot of learning before it can happen,” Horowitz said.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald attended the event and defended the University’s policy to The Daily.

“Well, you know, the policy speaks for itself,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s an extensive Q & A posted on the HR website to try to bring some clarity to a lot of these questions, we’ve heard many of these questions and tried to respond to them in that way through the context of the policy.”

In an email sent to The Daily after the event, Fitzgerald emphasized that the policy did not apply to a person’s previous criminal history.

“One thing I want to clarify is that the new felony disclosure policy does not require current employees to disclose previous charges or convictions,” Fitzgerald said. “Some of the comments tonight made me think that point may not be clear. Only charges or convictions since Feb. 1, 2019, need to be disclosed.”

Prior to the town hall, the speakers at the symposium expressed concern the new policy would result in discrimination against minorities at the University. Nora Krinitsky, symposium moderator and post-doctoral student, asked what forms of state surveillance the speakers –– three of whom were previously imprisoned –– had experienced and whether or not they believe state surveillance makes our communities safer.

Josh Hoe, who was formerly incarcerated, said he was “forced to register” as a sex offender. He speed-read a list of what he described as terrifying treatment in prison and described the ways in which the government surveilled and regulated his behavior after his release.

“After release on parole and probation, I was allowed out of my house for only five hours a day and zero hours on weekends for 1.5 years,” Hoe said. “I was only allowed to have the type of phone without a browser, and several times had my phone confiscated, one time when my father was having surgery… I was subject to raids at all hours, usually with a full team in SWAT gear… often they tossed my apartment.”

Hoe proposed ideas for policies to support people in situations similar to the one in which he had found himself.

“The answer… is to address the root causes of crime,” Hoe said. “It’s the surveilling communities, terrorizing communities and starving communities of resources necessary for health, we need to… address the real problems, which are things like education, lack of economic opportunity, et cetera. That’s where we have to start if we really want to have safe communities and allow people to succeed.”