The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Certified Rehabilitated

The recently-retired District Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York issued an interesting opinion regarding a criminal case. It's a strikingly original and frank assessment by a federal judge of the harm incarceration inflicts even after the offender is released. The Times has a good synopsis of the situation and the judge's solution (though it loses the erudition and scholarship of his opinion):
In 2003, John Gleeson, a federal district judge in Brooklyn, presided over the trial of a woman charged for her role in faking a car accident for the insurance payments. After a jury found her guilty, Judge Gleeson sentenced the woman to 15 months in prison.

Many judges might leave it at that, but in an extraordinary 31-page opinion released on March 7, Judge Gleeson stepped back into the case. Finding that this one conviction continued to scare off employers and make it impossible for the woman, identified in court records only as Jane Doe, to get hired as a nurse, Judge Gleeson gave her what amounted to a voucher of good character — he called it a “federal certificate of rehabilitation.”

No such certificate exists under federal law, so the judge designed one himself and attached it to his opinion.

While he believed the original punishment he gave Jane Doe was fair, Judge Gleeson wrote, “I had no intention to sentence her to the unending hardship she has endured in the job market.”

Jane Doe had asked the judge to expunge her conviction from the record. “I just feel intimidated when I see that question,” she told the judge, referring to the standard inquiry into a job applicant’s criminal history. “If you put ‘yes’ on there, that’s it. You are not getting that job.”

But Judge Gleeson declined her request, saying expungement was reserved for “unusual or extreme” cases. Instead, he opted for forgiveness over forgetting, as he put it. While the certificate has no legal effect, when Jane Doe shows it to a prospective employer or landlord, it should, the judge wrote, send “a powerful signal that the same system that found a person deserving of punishment has now found that individual fit to fully rejoin the community.”
Unfortunately, the Times doesn't say--and indeed it may be too early to say--if the certificate helped Ms. Doe. If it did, I congratulate Judge Gleeson for finding an outside-the-box way to redress a serious wrong done in our society--the failure to take reasonable steps to re-integrate offenders into society after their sentences have been served. New York State is one of the better states at this, but still, we as a nation have a long way to go.

I'm rooting for Ms. Doe.

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