MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - From “Ban the Box” to voting rights restoration, criminal justice reforms have been a big talker this year. However, figuring out how to go from talk to action was the purpose of a town hall meeting.
Thursday people in position to make change also listened to the people they’re trying to help, such as Jessie Tharpe.
Tharpe is the owner of Gold Mouth Affordable Moving Company.
“Things have been going very, very well,” Tharpe said.
It’s a career he never thought he’d have a year and a half ago.
“I was apprehensive because I was in Memphis. It’s hard for people to get any type of job when you get a felony. I had no license, and I had been gone this time for 12 and a half years,” Tharpe said.
Tharpe is an ex-felon, spending more than a decade in federal prison for a drug charge. Every year hundreds of ex-felons re-enter society and find life on the outside comes with its own set of roadblocks.
“From my perspective, we need as much emphasis placed on restoration as it is on punishment,” Ernie Hilliard, co-chair of the non-profit MICAH’s reentry task force, said.
Thursday, MICAH held a virtual town hall meeting regarding the criminal justice system called “How Long Must I Pay”.
Panelist and Tennessee state senator Raumesh Akbari says she hears complaints from her constituents all the time.
“I have been pumping gas and a man has come up to me with a similar story, committed a crime 30 years ago. Can not get his life back,” Akbari said.
Panelists included legislators, attorneys, judges, and ex-felons offering ideas of how to help ex-offenders.
“Make expungement of their records automatic, so once they complete their sentencing obligations, then it’s automatically erased,” Hilliard said.
Tennessee is one of the few states that allow certain felonies to be expunged. Also in 2017, expungement fees dropped from $350 to $180.
However, there are few exceptions the state allows for ex-felons to restore their right to vote.
“You see a lot of people getting out there saying you must vote, you must vote, but I can’t be a part of it even though I’ve done my time. I’ve paid my debt to society, but I’m still not totally free,” Tharpe said.
But he does have a vehicle that does a lot more than move furniture. It also provides jobs.
Tharpe’s moving company always brings at least 5 people to every moving job he gets. He primarily hires other ex-felons with children to give them a second shot at life.
Other issues discussed during the town hall meeting included changing sentencing guidelines for certain non-violent offenses and limiting the number of people on parole.