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Democratic Organization Gives Some Felons Second Chance

America Coming Together (ACT)--a democratic group working to ensure that George W. Bush is not reelected--is employing felons to conduct door-to-door voter registration drives in Missouri, Florida, Ohio, and possibly 14 other states crucial to the November 2004 elections.

ACT contends that convicted criminals deserve a second chance in society and argues that the felons it employs are not a threat to public safety. We believe it's important to give people a second chance," said Mo Elleithee, a Washington-based spokesman for the group. The fact that they are willing to do this work is a fairly serious indication that they want to become productive members of society.

Pursuant to federal law, ACT is an independent organization not affiliated with the John Kerry campaign. However, many of the group's workers are Democrats with past ties to Kerry and his advisers.

Elleithee confirmed that felons have been used to register voters in Missouri, Florida, and Ohio. He also said ACT may have employed felons in 14 other swing states as well, including Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Elleithee declined to comment on how many felons ACT has hired, but said they earn from $8.00 to $12.00 an hour.

Not surprisingly, ACT's employment practices have set some conservatives to howling. Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican Party, called ACT's hiring policy disturbing" and criticized the group for proudly hiring felons convicted of sex offenses, assault and burglary to go house to house and handle sensitive information." [Editor's Note: This is odd considering the fact that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have both been convicted, twice, of drunk driving. The White House also employs a number of convicted felons, including Elliot Abrams, in fairly high level policy making positions. White House Spokespeople routinely refuse to answer media questions about how many convicted felons are employed by the Bush administration.]

Possibly sensing controversy, the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) decided in April 2004 to remove ACT from its roster of approved employers for parolees in state-run halfway houses, according to DOC spokesman John Fougere. Before the ban, ACT had employed 7 Missouri parolees living in halfway houses in St. Louis and Kansas City.

In Ohio, ACT employed a woman who was convicted of gross sexual imposition but had completed her parole 12 years ago. If she was still on parole that job wouldn't have been approved," said Ohio DOC spokeswoman Andrea Dean. However, Dean added that People who have been out of prison and haven't had any other problems with law enforcement, they should be given that second chance to be viable citizens.

In Florida, it doesn't matter what the DOC thinks since most prisoners are not released on parole. If they're released from our custody and there is no other supervision ... we can't prohibit them from taking a job like this," said Florida DOC spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Unfortunately, ACT may have bowed to pressure from the opposition.
Under a new policy enacted in the spring of 2004, ACT will no longer hire persons convicted of violent crimes, said Elleithee. This is disheartening since violent offenders are the very ones whose successful reintegration would most benefit society. Statistically, they also have the lowest reoffense rates.
According to Elleithee, at least two felons who had lived in a Missouri halfway house were again employed by ACT upon reentering the community and are a tremendous part of our team.

Republican outrage over the use of felons in the democratic process is indeed hypocritical given that PLN has reported the use of Phoenix, Arizona jail prisoners to process mail in ballots. In the May, 1995, issue of PLN we reported how Jack Metcalf, Republican U.S. Congressman from the Second Congressional district in Washington state used prisoner telemarketers at the Washington State Reformatory to call potential voters and encourage them to vote on him. That Metcalf was campaigning on a tough on crime" platform, and using convicted murderers, rapists and robbers to campaign on his behalf was not a problem for the Republican party then (nor for his Democratic opponents for that matter). Metcalf spent 6 years in congress before retiring.

Source: The New York Times

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