Providence: A United City on Gardner—MINDSETTER™ Molina Flynn

Sunday, October 21, 2018

 

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Joseph Molina Flynn

For once during this election cycle, Providence seems to be united. Richard Gardner’s move to the South Side of Providence has sparked up a conversation regarding the living situation of the convicted felon. More specifically, as everyone now knows, Gardner was convicted of the particularly heinous crime of sexually assaulting young children. Following his release from a Massachusetts prison, he relocated to the Washington Park area of Providence. His move has led to protests, community meetings, and political grandstanding aimed at driving him out.

At the fringes, these conversations are easy. No one wants a person convicted of such a heinous offense living next door. No one. But society does not operate at the fringes. Richard Gardner’s current situation should lead to a further discussion about what it is that should be done in the majority of cases.

Barriers to Reentry

As felons go, those convicted of violent offenses against children are the most despised. But they are not the only class of convicted felons who face barriers to re-enter the community following their time in prison. People with past convictions face a great level of stigma as they try to reintegrate into society. Often, these stigmas translate into lack of employment, housing, and other opportunities. Depending on the conviction, convicted felons may also find themselves lacking in interpersonal relationships as they can be excluded by family and former friends.

In order to dictate where people cannot live, we must also look to find where they can live. Sure, Gardner should not live in close proximity to Providence’s children. Certainly, no one is saying that he should. But where should he go? Unless and until the city and the state offer suitable alternatives for where such a person should go, the outcome of telling him where he cannot go is that he ends up homeless. At this point, there is no expectation that many would feel badly if Gardner ends up homeless. But homelessness makes convicted sex offenders more difficult to track and, thus, more difficult to prevent from reoffending.

In addition to providing resources for the felons who are reentering society, local and state governments should provide resources for those in the affected communities. Neighborhood watch programs, community outreach by the police departments, and solutions as simple as working streetlamps would help to strengthen the local community and perhaps eliminate some of the existing fear.

Recidivism

The other far uglier side of excluding convicted felons, even those convicted of raping children, from society is the push to recidivate. When society offers no alternatives for a convicted felon and, in turn, prevents them from working, going to school, finding affordable housing, and accessing other community resources, the felon gravitates toward that which she knows. She recidivates. Not everyone who recidivates does so for that reason, nor does every person excluded from society recidivate, but it bears repeating that the less access a person has, the more likely he or she is to find comfort in that which he or she knows.

Programs to help eradicate recidivism are necessary. Taking Gardner’s example as one of the most extreme, it is imperative to remember that there are people who are being excluded from living normal daily lives for offenses far less heinous. Advocating for criminal justice reform and eliminating the barriers to reentry means advocating for everyone. Arbitrary lines help shape the conversation around an outlier on which most can agree, but they detract from a greater conversation about life after incarceration.

For more information regarding barriers to reentry please visit these resources:

www.bantheboxcampaign.org

www.antirecidivism.org

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/12/recidivism-programs-prison_n_6655392.html

 
 

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