By J. Peter Sabonis, Esq.  

In June, the United Workers began a series of monthly meetings with ex-offenders to discuss their employment rights.  Given the conventional wisdom, the meetings should have been over in ten minutes.  Other than an entitlement to expunge non-convictions if they happen to fall into the myriad qualifications within Md. Criminal Procedure §10-102, what rights can ex-offenders possibly have, save the right to beg, plead, or grovel before employers for the chance to make an honest living?

The notion that the behavior of felons warrants not only punishment and correction, but a loss of certain privileges of citizenship, like voting, is longstanding.    Many states, however, have had second thoughts, given evidence that conviction-related voting disqualification disproportionately disenfranchises minorities, and that participation in civic life can be an important part of individual rehabilitation and community support for the ex-offender.

But civic life is one thing—minimal economic sufficiency is another.   In Article 45 of its Declaration of Rights, the Maryland Constitution recognizes, as does the federal, that certain inalienable rights exist—rights that that flow from the very fact of that we are human.  Call it what you want—natural law,  higher law, or human rights—but the concept is clearly entrenched in our legal history.

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