There is an uproar and outrage over President Obama’s comments to Philadelphia Eagle’s owner Jeff Lurie regarding the team giving Michael Vick a second chance after he completed his federal prison sentence for running a dog fighting ring. Criticism has come from animal rights activists and political pundits who never miss a chance to criticize the president regardless the subject or issue being discussed.
Tucker Carlson, a substitute political commentator for Fox News went so far as to say Vick should have been executed for his involvement in dog fighting. Carlson is a fervent animal rights activist, but certainly doesn’t understand the nature of the law. There is no question that for animal lovers, Vick’s crimes were as hideous as is possible, but the law does not recommend the death penalty for Vick’s crime. The Eagle’s quarterback served his time and paid his debt to society, so calls for execution are extreme and contrary to the tenets of America’s criminal justice system.
The question though is not whether Vick deserves execution, but whether he deserved a second chance after serving his sentence. President Obama condemned Vick for his crimes, but was right in being grateful for Vick’s second chance to become a productive citizen. The primary purpose of Obama’s call to Lurie was to discuss and praise the Eagle’s organization for installing wind turbines in an effort to promote green energy.
Many Americans do not think it is appropriate that Vick was given a second chance and it reflects a long-standing belief that convicted felons are not worthy of the same rights as all Americans. A valid question is; would Vick have been given a second chance if he wasn’t a star athlete? The answer is most certainly no based on hiring practices across the country, and it is especially true now that employers can easily make background checks on applicants in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, employers will find more of their applicants have a criminal history because such a large number of Americans are either in the penal system or are ex-convicts.
America imprisons more people than any country on Earth, and as the ex-convicts re-enter society they find it increasingly difficult to find employment because of their convictions. Based on statistics from the Department of Justice, the number of Americans incarcerated, on parole, or on probation is one in every thirty-one adults, or about 7.3 million Americans. The greatest percentages of arrests were for consensual (victimless) crimes. Victimless crimes are currently illegal activities that result in no harm or damage to another person or individual’s property and include such activities as recreational drug use, gambling, prostitution, pornography, drunk driving, and traffic violations. Juvenile crimes are not included in the 7.3 million figure and make up less than 5% of the overall correction system population.
If those figures are not alarming, consider that 1 in every 45 Americans is on parole or probation and of that figure, the number of star athletes on parole or probation is infinitesimal. For convicted felons who have served their time like Michael Vick, their chances of finding any employment are increasingly slim and it explains why the recidivism rate is so high among ex-convicts; that is exactly what the prison industry wants. The cost of incarcerating the prison population in America is in excess of $68 billion annually, and it explains why unions representing correction officers wield such power and influence over legislatures in every state in the Union. In a state like California, the cost to house and maintain the prison population far exceeds the education budget, and it explains why there is a push to privatize the prison system. It also explains why lobbyists pressure legislators to vote against bills that would offer education and rehabilitation to parolees so they can find gainful employment once they are out of the correction system.
The way the system works now, a parolee without an education or adequate counseling will be back in prison within 1 to 3 years because they cannot find employers willing to give them a second chance. Employers like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s will not hire ex-convicts and one has to wonder if there is collusion with the prison industry to keep felons in the system.
Perhaps President Obama is setting a precedent by thanking Lurie for giving Michael Vick a second chance at being a productive citizen. With so many Americans in the correction system for victimless crimes, there is a need for reform to delineate between dangerous criminals and those who harm no one. There should not be a double-standard for star athletes, entertainers, or politicians who are hired as soon as their debt to society has been paid and regular citizens who still can contribute to society but have no fame or special skills.
The man who was caught with a prostitute should have the same opportunity as the man who killed dogs because they didn’t perform, but that is not the case. There is no equity in the system as it stands, and the way it works now the person who is not famous is most likely going to end up back in prison because they have no prospects for employment or the chance to contribute to society.
Americans love their athletes, and Michael Vick is a talented football player, but he is no better than the man convicted of recreational drug use. However, Vick got his second chance as he should have because he paid his debt to society according to the law. If Vick had been a clerk at Wal-Mart, he would not be given a second chance and the likelihood of him ending up back in prison because of a lack of a job would be all but certain. His crime, although atrocious, certainly did not warrant calls for execution, but if he were not a famous athlete, he may as well have been executed because the rest of his life would have been spent in prison.
Americans are quick to forgive celebrities for their crimes and happy to see them prosper when they are given a second, third, or fourth opportunity to become productive. It is high time that Americans afford the same opportunities to regular citizens who are convicted of crimes whether victimless or not. President Obama has set a precedent that lawmakers should follow by passing legislation that enables every ex-convict the opportunity at a second chance once they have paid their debt to society; although with so much money to be made by keeping the prisons full, that likelihood is remote at best.