Felons in public housing?

Felons in public housing?

July 31st, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

It is undoubtedly true that some convicted felons make commendable efforts to reform in prison and to follow a productive path after they are set free. We applaud those efforts, and we can see the good sense of job-training programs as well as charitable efforts to help them work their way back into society.

But there are some long-term practical consequences of felony convictions, and the government should not ignore those consequences in a way that may endanger the public.

Alarmingly, the Obama administration has begun pressuring local public housing agencies to loosen their restrictions on convicted felons obtaining taxpayer-funded housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggested that some offenders who have been freed from prison may be less likely to re-offend if they are provided subsidized housing. So HUD said local housing authorities should try to determine whether criminals seeking housing are rehabilitated, and open their doors to them.

A housing authority "can use its discretion based on [an ex-convict's] character and their progress to determine if that individual would benefit from public housing," a HUD spokeswoman told The Houston Chronicle.

We cannot see the wisdom in that. For one thing, even experts in criminal behavior are not necessarily able to determine whether a convict has truly reformed -- and so housing officials surely are not in any position to make such a determination.

For another, public housing often already has a significant problem with gangs and crime. Housing officials should not be pressured to bring additional, known criminal elements into their residences.

And finally, there is the simple matter of justice. Some disadvantaged people who have broken no law may be unable to get into public housing because there just isn't enough to go around. Is it fair that law-abiding people could be passed over for housing so that it can be given to felons?

Attempts to reintegrate freed prisoners into society are worthwhile. But those efforts should not put others at undue risk or disadvantage.