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My friend starts her job today, after learning to program in prison (twitter.com/jessicamckellar)
1040 points by danso on Oct 1, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 622 comments

Hey, posting anonymously here since this hits close to home; as I'm also a felon. I learned to program _after_ all my legal troubles started, and my sentence wasn't _nearly_ as long as this (6 months, drug crime).

I 100% honestly feel like tech saved my life. My first job immediately gave me hope that I'm not defined by my past. Went from working in a factory making $7/hr (about 10 yrs ago), to now grossing well over 6 figures (currently making west coast type wages).

Run a small consultancy now and can even subcontract out work to a few friends. I know there's alot of talk on how to make the industry more inclusive (which I agree we need to do better at). But I can't think of any industry as meritocratic as tech.

How? I read so many felon success stories but I'm a non-violent felon and I can't even get an entry-level interview in IT. I'm multiskilled with a huge focus on security but despite the demand, I've had so much trouble.

In fact, in one very sad case, I showed up to my first day of work as a sys admin and was walked out after 2 hours because the HR department neglected to go over my application and see the felony checkbox until that day, despite having been hired over a month before!

Move to San Francisco. Employers aren't allowed ask about arrests or conviction on a job application. They aren't allowed to do background checks until they have offered you the job. They can only consider convictions directly related to the job. And if they reject you because of a background check, they must notify you, allow you to respond, and reconsider based on the response.



Ha - I had a few similar experiences. Shortly after I was released, I went to a temp agency. From the get-go I told them I was a felon. No problem, they said. Within a week I'm placed at a greeting card manufacturing plant.

During lunch, I pop my head in the manager's office, and let them know how thankful I am for the position. I'm excited to have the opportunity. Manager never had someone do that before.

Later on that afternoon I got a called in to that manager's office. Change of plans, no need to come in again. I could collect my things (what things? First day.) and go.

Getting a gig in a security context is going to be hard. While most places can't openly not hire you due only to you being a felon, that's how it's going to be. It's not great, but that's how it is.

If you have real technical skills in regards to security know that you can generally sell memory corruption exploits completely anonymously, without any presentation of ID much less people asking if you're a felon or your spotty work history.

Most of the real earners in security are making proof of concept code for vulns, and a huge swath of them are felons. Zerodium has generally the best payouts if you don't want to bother networking and building a client list. They do not care about any previous felonies. They only care that your code works. They will pay hundreds of thousands to a million dollars for PoC in some stuff. If you can find two exploits in mid-tier stuff a year, you can earn a six figure living.

There's also the crypto economy.

Another big tip is to move where cost of living in extremely low (Eastern Europe, Cambodia, etc) to make your freelance money last longer while you look for good bugs. I'm a former felon -- my felony conviction was vacated but nobody really seemed to care after I left prison by flipping the false charges on appeal that I wasn't technically a felon anymore. There were no real job opportunities and I had to make my own.

> security

That might be your problem. From what I heard it's a more sensitive role so they will take a stricter stance.

So? They may take a stricter stance, but I just fail to see how anything but extortion or treason really applies to working in security.

Hell, even if you committed a murder that doesn’t make you any more likely to steal company secrets.

Statistically, it does.

> Statistically, it does.

If that mattered, all of antidiscrimination law would be struck down.

IANAL (and law differs around the globe) but...

discrimination is prohibited towards protected categories. i.e. gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation... on top of it, most of those aren't things that you choose yourself.

With the possible exception of religion (you're born into a certain culture, so "by default" you might feel affiliated to a certain religion, so asking people to renounce that would definitely be oppressive), and veteran status (which is not a protected category around the world, I think... though it is in the US)

If you self-select into a segment of the population that no one is born into[1], yet it's lawfully discriminated against (i.e. felons ITT) I'm afraid that you don't have a good case to protect yourself from such discrimination.

[1] Unfortunately, systemic racism and the plea/prosecutors/bail system make it so that people in certain segments of the population are more likely than others to end up involved in crimes.

In my personal opinion anti-discrimination laws are not born out of precise definition of fair/unfair discrimination but on a value judgement that some particular classes of discriminations are disproportionate and are causing too much harm.

If there never was any racism there would be no need for laws forbidding discrimination on race, conversely if we where deeply elitist based on height there could exist laws about height discrimination.

With regards to felonies the two question I consider focal are:

1) what is the long-term plan for convicted criminals, and

2) how much extra-judicial/social punishment should we tolerate on non-public figures for non-public crimes.

Statistically, it does? You have a citation, then. Would you share it, please?

Found this: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/once-a-criminal-always-a-crimin...

1% of 988 murderers were arrested for a new crime (yet not another murder). Is that higher than average? It sounds like it is.

Let's be clear that being arrested for a new crime is different than being convicted of a new crime. Given that none of the murderers in that overview went back to prison, I'm inclined to think that their conviction rate is low.

Keep in mind also that being an ex-con in a community likely puts you at the top of the PD's suspect list for new crimes, and that reintegration with society is difficult, so imprisonment (regardless of crime) makes recidivism more likely.

Yes, agreed.

Intuitively, it makes sense that "statistically, it does", but if words have meaning, than "statistically" means literally there are statistics demonstrating the assertion, and so far, bupkis

Ironically if this is true probably part of the reason would be that too many people already believe it.

Only if you work for fortune 500 or a company that has government clients. Lots of boutique security companies probably don't care if you are otherwise qualified.

Don't check the felony checkbox. Seriously.

At best, that can get you fired. Easily. And that makes it even more difficult to find another job in the future.

More so than being a felon in the first place? Most places won't let felons get a foot in the door in the first place. Unless not-checking that box is a criminal offense, lying about your qualifications hasn't stopped some of the highest offices in the US being filled, so while it's easy to say "don't check the box", it's just as easy to say (and just as unrealistic, unless you have a time machine), to say "don't be a felon", to somebody that already has the conviction. Which is to say, it isn't really helpful.

More realistically, the (un)likelyhood of a felony conviction going unnoticed on a background check means that whether or not you check the box, if the employer does a background check it will become known, but some places don't run the check and some don't actually care about the results but they're required to run the check.

So a low chances of being fired is better than a zero chance of being hired? If it isn't immediately pertinent to the applicant's ability to do the job, for example if a convicted sex offender were applying for a position as a child caretaker, and the offender has paid their due to society then the employer has no right to ask. Everything but that type of conflict of interest should be treated as personal information. It's the justice system's job to serve justice, not the responsibility of HR.

I almost wonder if this has to do with the fact that you specialize in security. Because of the gray line a lot tech security specialist walk, its the de facto standard to run a background check and turn down an employee for even a sneeze or low credit score. For one, passing a SOC2 audit becomes increasingly difficult if there any type of criminal record on any IT staff.

My suggestion:

1. Go to a big city where software folks are paid a lot

2. Apply for roles at startups or small companies who find it hard to compete with big companies paying a lot.

3. Profit

And live in an RV to save on housing costs.

In what situations do US employers/clients ask about criminal history? Can't you freelance or start as a contractor?

When I was in consulting, it was part of our regular contact language that we had verified backgrounds and that we wouldn't place a felon on site with a client. A surprising number of clients even outside banking, finance, government, etc made a point of enforcing this language, even conducting their own background checks.

Freelancing was the approach I saw some people do successfully, but there were lots of projects we couldn't put them on.

We even saw clients that refused anyone who had even a misdemeanor, at which point I discovered how many of our consultants had misdemeanor DUIs or arrests for various non-violent reasons.

This is just puritanical, judgemental idiocy at its most pointlessly discriminatory. Even for felony offenses it often veers into the same territory but flatly refusing to hire people for fucking misdemeanors with absolutely no relevance to most of the work involved? What a closed, almost hatefully punitive mentality some employers have. I can't put myself into another's shoes or context of needs, but if I ran a firm that subcontracted employees to other companies, who then refused to accept them for some half-assed DUI from years back, I hope I'd have the decency to fire that client instead.

Generealizing: if a person is dishonest, do you think his inclination to act dishonestly depends on the work they do or on their personality?

That's a loaded and extremely variable question. Furthermore, it has little relevance to the main thing I criticized above: that misdemeanors are usually irrelevant to most work and rejecting people because of them is grossly, punitively biased. I say irrelevant because in the context of your question, the value of some random public disorderliness citation or DUI is next to useless for judging how inherently or professionally honest a person is, and even more absurd for measuring how likely they are to commit outright criminal offenses against an employer.

It's very easy to get slapped with a misdemeanor in the U.S and even many other countries, often for absurd, bullshit reasons that had more to do with the mood of the authorities in a given context than a person being at all an abnormal danger to society.

I don't really disagree with you - but try arguing that with every lawyer in every Fortune 1000 company.

Every Saint has a past. Every Sinner has a future.

Everyone has a past and a future, but what kind?

Anyone doing work that could be state, federal, finance, healthcare, related to children, etc. Will always have background checks, with many industries requiring them. That said, there aren't rules that say you can't hire someone with a felony, it's more up to the company, the crime, the disposition of the case, and what they'll be doing.

There are always waivers so to speak. I've hired people that have had bad pasts, as long as they've shown they're on the right path. If we're not going to give people opportunities after they've completed what we as a society have deemed as recourse for their actions, what's the point in it all.

You may not be able to get a clearance or work in some finance positions, but there are ways.

Honestly they should not be allowed to; you got convicted, you did the time. In the US's stupid penal system, you have paid your debt to society; in others, you (should) have rehabilitated. That's it, you do the time, clean slate, move on.

The stigma with former felons is why there's a lot of repeat offense, why people stay stuck on the social ladder, and of course why the US' attempt at democracy is laughable.

Background check process will uncover it. If you're not upfront with it early in the process it will come up in background check and usually disqualify you.

Edit: background checks are standard practice for employees and contractors usually.

Why would contractors care, unless it's a high profile customer-facing thing like Uber?

I've done a lot of consulting and small contracts on the side and have never been aware of any background checking. I don't even think most have my SSN, just the info for my bank account. And I have a pretty common name. There's convicts even in my state with the same name I can find on search. Often there's not even a formal contract, just a handshake.

Also you can make money this way all over the world.

Every job application I have ever filled out asked whether I had been convicted of a felony. All the way back to my first job bagging groceries.

My last job application asked not only about felony conviction but also wanted to know if I've ever been arrested before.

that literally never happened to me

Have you ever filled out an actual job application in the US? I'm pretty sure every job application I've filled out until San Francisco passed the Fair Chance Ordinance has asked if I have any convictions, and some have asked about arrests (which is crazy). And every job I can remember has done a background check.

wait what's a "job application"?

Every single job, since my first dish-washing, has asked this question. The forms HR gives me now when I need to hire ask it too even if I disagree with asking it.

I've never seen a basic job application without it. Fast food asked. Half the places do a drug test as well, some of them (call centers and commericial foodservice) did drug tests, including random hair follicle tests.

You either haven't worked bottom-of-the-barrel jobs or lived in areas where this sort of thing wasn't allowed.

As opposed to figuratively...?

Unfortunately I have a very unique name and despite my crime being committed in 2013 my name wasn't publicized widely until 2017.

So I have no ability or desire to try to hide from my past, at this point. I'm just trying to own up to my mistakes and do better.

Indeed, I don't know anyone else named BlueGh0st.

Have you thought about changing your legal name? It's a bit of a chore, but it might allow to permanently shed a lot of baggage if you change to a common name.

You still have to list your previous names in many cases and pretty much every background check form asks: Married women who have changed their name must do this all the time.

If you sell to larger customers, soc2 or other type audits require background checks.

For our business, larger customer MSAs often have requirements about criminal convictions.

We additionally require -- per soc2 as well as MSAs -- to background check our contractors.

As the twitter author said, it's a thing that I could potentially work around, but there's only so many hours in the day. And I would probably have to be able to permanently guarantee that eg an employee with a felony conviction never had access to certain data.

Most companies (and every company I've ever worked for) do a background check on hire (the offer is contingent on passing the background check).

If you know you're not going to pass the background check then you're probably better off working at a startup.

It's standard practice for basically all employers.

hey, look at the post from TheLastMile down below. No idea if you are close enough, but the job sounds like it would suit your skills.

Are you white? I think Race has a big part of if you make it or not especially if you have committed a felony.

Interestingly, some well-intentioned “ban the box” policies backfired in terms of racial justice in hiring. These campaigns managed to outlaw the “are you a felon?” question on job applications in an attempt to make it easier for felons, many of whom belong to racial minorities, to get a fair shot at employment based on their skills. Unfortunately this caused employers to hire even fewer members of those minority groups. Apparently without the box, employers see minority hires as an unacceptable risk.

The world is a disappointing place sometimes.

If you forbid direct measurement of something, then people will use proxies, which is generally harmful to everyone involved.

If you want to minimize the extent to which people use demographics as a proxy for qualities they want to select for, then make it as cheap and reliable as possible to measure those qualities directly.

That only ends when you make it easier to figure out whether someone is going to actually harm your business in the future, rather than finding out whether they have ever been a felon.

Smaller companies (5-20 employees) will most likely be a lot more understanding.

Have you tried doing freelancer stuff? When no one will give you a chance, giving yourself one is probably your best bet.

I have no idea how well that would work, but it seems like the only variable you can control.

I have been able to do just a handful of freelance-gigs outside of my desired field but between bad experiences (payment was 6 months late once) and life kicking me while I'm down, I've just been seeking some stability.

>(payment was 6 months late once)

This never gets enough visibility among freelancers / contractors / consultants - it can be really hard to get paid and for smaller amounts of money it often would take too much in legal fees to actually get paid.

Don’t work until payment is made? Offer a discount for early payment? Charge interest on late payments?

>Charge interest on late payments?

This is an important one, as is a clause in your contract that will force them to pay legal fees in the event you have to sue to get them to pay.

>Don’t work until payment is made?

I'm a fan of arrangements where clients pay something up front, then receive work, then pay the rest. No client in their right mind is going to pay the whole amount up front and frankly nor should they. But, if they pay 50% up front, you do work, and then they decide to stiff you for the final payment, you'd better have a good lawyer and a tight contract.

You can't exactly not work until payment is made, simply because the field is too crowded. So in the starting of a project, you desperately go to a bidding war against the competition where you either compromise on your time or your money or something else of yours. Whether you get paid or not becomes a backseat priority. Offering a discount for early payment is one sort of those things, and let's be honest, most clients value the optionality of not paying at all over paying a discount. Charging an interest on late payments needs to be explicitly mentioned during the bidding process, and that will draw the client away in an already crowded field.

I also have a felony on my record and struggled immensely because of a long wrap sheet of misdemeanor crimes that seemed to cascade from that single mistake. My record has caused me to be fired from and denied several jobs, and at my lowest point I was kicked out of an education program despite succeeding otherwise. "None of my charges are violent or sexual. There's no reason to conclude I'd be a danger to children. Look at them. Failure to appear. Disorderly conduct. Criminal mischief..." "It doesn't matter, look how many there are. Parents will find this, you, the school, and our program will be held accountable."

Bottom line is people are absolutely horrible to each other if they're given even the slightest pretense. It's just a disgusting facet of our psyche, I guess. Those convicted of a crime are condemned to continued punishment by anybody who cares to look at their record, long after they've repaid any debts. I remember asking a police officer when I was in my early 20's why every time I handed my Id to an officer I was searched, arrested, or charged with something. She replied simply, "Because you have a yellow stripe painted down your back."

The fact I had an outstanding warrant for a speeding ticket in another state and doing stupid and illegal things aside, once you have a record it is very hard to escape it. Most are relegated to menial minimum wage jobs. I was lucky, I have a social safety net, confidence, I knew I could get around it. Decided to focus my studies on something so specialized an employer wouldn't try looking for reasons not to hire me. I don't think anybody has actually checked my record since I graduated. The only applications I've been handed were basically a token for HR and I simply mark, "No" under the, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" question. Because it doesn't matter. It should be illegal for anybody to access resolved criminal records if they don't have a direct reason pertaining to the safety or security of others. It's not your job as an employer or hiring manager to judge someone's mistakes, only their aptitude to perform a job.

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people in this situation decide, at some point, that if society is going to treat them as a criminal forever, then they may as well make a life out of crime.

> It should be illegal for anybody to access resolved criminal records if they don't have a direct reason pertaining to the safety or security of others.

> It's not your job as an employer or hiring manager to judge someone's mistakes, only their aptitude to perform a job.

I have no horse in this race, so my opinion is mostly out of ignorance, but I believe that this formulation isn't entirely correct. In a sense employers should be allowed to make stupid decisions; the problem is when too many employers make correlated decisions leaving out a innocent chunk of the population.

So what is your take? In the same sentence you've both advocated and dissented on the issue of employers discriminating against resolved charges not pertaining to the job. Is that what you mean by, "no horse in this race"? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ so to speak.

My take is that it is not about whether the employers have a right to do background checks or not, rather it is about the effect that practice has on society.

If few employers do background checks that ex-convicts have easy to access alternatives it is not a problem, if enough employers use that a new social class of unemployable people is created it becomes a serious problem.

I like the idea of forbidding discrimination based on unrelated offences, but am not particularly informed on the topic.

said another way my claim is that we should have strong anti-discrimination laws for ex-convicts, not for a-priori or theoretical reasons but because they absence is causing a problem.

Congratulations! I'm with a YC company that helps formerly-incarcerated people with jobs, and would love to talk with you about what you're doing. Like you, we believe that coding and tech can be a potential way to help rentry. Work email is joel@70millionjobs.com.

70M jobs was just the company I was thinking of. Fantastic positive outlook on life and gives people a second chance.

On paper, I'd be a felon for serious offences on at least 4 episodes. If the law was followed to the letter, and if somebody nosy had enough access and time to inspect the past 15 years of my life, I'd be serving at least two life sentences. The smallest offence is carrying a hunter's knife in my car: that's a 3rd degree felony as I'd discovered recently. In practice, though, if the law was followed to the letter, 90% of males would be serving life right after high school for reasons I probably don't need to explain.

>for reasons I probably don't need to explain.

I'm clueless. What would lead to serving life?

I think they're implying statutory rape.

I think they mean that smaller things such as carrying a hunter knife may add up to approximately two life sentences.

maybe, but why would that apply to only males?

Where do you live that it is a felony to have a hunting knife in your car, and also where felony's have degrees?

Not only felonies have degrees here, they have classes and graduate eventually.

Even predicate ones? (I kid)

That is great to hear. I am happy for you. If you don't mind me asking, what kind of tech consulting do you do?

Mostly web dev currently but I've worked in a few different domains.

Dang. That sounds great. I hope to one day start my own consulting firm.

What programming language / domain did you learn?

I went through the same situation, except I chose to work for myself instead of going into the job market. I shared a small part of my story for the first time on reddit [1] , which led to me being interviewed on the stackoverflow podcast [2] . All I can say is that from my experience, knowing how to code is a skill that has proven to be indispensable. I don’t know what I would be doing if it wasn’t for the fact that I can create things I can sell, with no funding, and nothing but ideas. In the past, my options were few, now they seem limitless.

Much respect for your friend, and congrats on her success! It’s not easy at all to actually self rehabilitate behind those walls.



In the US, more than 60% of people released from prison return, and our program alumni continue to prove that the way to stop the cycle is through career opportunities.

Many TLM grads have returned home after decades in prison and gotten good jobs in tech. The key is making useful resources like coding classes available to those inside seeking opportunity.

By the way - TLM is hiring a Dev Ops & IT Manager, if you want to help us grow our in-prison tech program: https://thelastmile.org/work-with-us/#2321

70millionjobs is a YC (S17) company that helps people with criminal records get jobs - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14911467

In Germany I was asked to provide my criminal record while working at a payment processing startup that had to obtain certain certificates. They were probably looking for crimes of a fiscal nature however, which is understandable. Second chances are second chances but security is mostly about trust.

Another job at a startup in Germany that worked in less tightly controlled spaces has never asked me to produce my criminal record, nor could they legally. An employer can only ask questions that are reasonably necessary for them to make a fair consideration about me as an applicant. You could ask an accountant about embezzlement convictions, a pharmacist about drug convictions etc., but that is not applicable to software engineers.

This is the only sane way to do things.

Theft, fraud and violence are applicable for all jobs surely.

Surely not, if by "applicable" you mean to suggest that employers would never want to hire such a person for any job.

Should a person convicted of theft, who's served their time, paid the fine, made the victims whole, and learned not to steal, be discarded from consideration as a useful member of society? In case it's not clear, I think they should have the same rights as any other human being.

No one seriously advocates the death penalty or life imprisonment for petty crimes. But depending on the ability of a society to forget (which the information age is rapidly making very difficult) and the ability of a society to forgive (which the climate of fear is also making difficult), a conviction in your record can ruin a life.

If that is the case their record should be wiped at the end of their sentence. What's the point of a record if it can't be used to warn people of your past?

"Same rights" - no sorry, somebody who stole before will be regarded with higher suspicion than other people, and that's OK.

How do you know they "learned not to steal"? Can you look inside of their heads?

There are jobs with less opportunities to steal, for example. Trust has to be regained, simply "having been in prison" is not really worth much in that respect. You would stay in prison, regardless of your mindset, because you are forced to be there.

As an Australian, I find that perspective awful. Going to jail is the punishment society has chosen for the crime. Once you've served your time, you rejoin society on an equal footing. Denying jobs to ex-cons makes it much harder for them to integrate back into society, and increases the recidivism rate. (Which you pay for via taxes.)

The equation isn't "bad person -> steals". Its "person maladapted to society / with unhealthy community -> steals". Why would someone be a thief if they have a stable job and community?

And how do you expect someone fresh out of jail, with no connections and community, to make a stable life for themselves if nobody will give them a job?

Not "nobody should give them a job", just not a job with ability to do harm. But that's for every employer to decide for themselves.

If you don't think somebody having done X before makes them more likely to do it again than normal people, I don't know. (More accurately, people who did X are more likely to be people who would do X again). We just have to disagree - but you can not enshrine such beliefs in law.

As I said, trust has to be regained, merely doing something you are forced to do anyways does not prove anything about your real attitudes.

In "How To Change Your Life In 7 Steps", the founder of the homeless magazine "The Big Issue" John Bird describes what he had to do to be able to have homeless people work for him. I have high respect for people like him.

The issue is risk. Hiring someone with a criminal record is riskier than hiring someone with a clean record. There is no upside to mitigate that risk either. So it shouldn't be surprising that hiring managers discriminate on anything they can legally get away with.

>and learned not to steal

That's the issue at hand. Serving a prison sentence doesn't mean that you have learned not to steal. It's difficult for the company to verify that you have "learned your lesson".

What will satisfy you then? Should people who come out from prison for stealing sit around jobless since nobody trusts them? That's bound to get them back into prison.

I would be satisfied if there was a proper criminal justice system. Unfortunately, in the US (and most of the world) that is not the case, and former prisoners are more likely to commit crime than people who have never been in prison. I know that is "unfair", but I chose to live in a safe neighborhood and work with safe people. It is not my job to put my safety on the line in order to try to rehabilitate a criminal.

It’s interesting that the very people that say ‘they haven’t learned their lesson’ perpetuate that exact thing.

There was an article a little while back about a company tracking the employees behavior on the computer, and a lot of people mentioned that ‘if you are not trusted regardless, what incentive do you have to be trustworthy’.

This is the exact same thing.

I'm not responsible for strangers. If I'm a hiring manager, I'm responsible for my company and the safety of my employees. I owe nothing to a stranger. Take your problem to someone else.

How about: an insurance policy such that, if the employee does end up stealing, then the employer is made whole. The former-thief employee could pay for such a policy, and then it would seem the employer would be indifferent between the former thief and the average applicant. The policy could be paid for out of the thief's salary; he would effectively be accepting a lower wage.

If the job is minimum wage, of course, then it's not possible to lower the wage further.

Also, discovering the theft and proving it was that employee might be difficult.

No they should find jobs where they have less opportunity to cause harm.

I'm super curious - do you feel that all those crimes you mentioned should have life sentences?

'cause I mean...if not, what was the point of the jail term? Depending on perspective, it might be rehabilitative, or it might be punitive, but either way, time served should equate to a clear record, no? If not, you're either saying they need further punishment, or you don't believe that they've been rehabilitated, in which case why were they let out?

If you beat a man up such that he suffers lifelong injuries, it seems only fair to me that your punishment should also be life long.

I don't think you should necessarily spend all that time in prison, but not having access to trusted jobs is not comparable to being in pain every day for the rest of your life.

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind if more punishments were metered out in the form of community service.

That's the "punitive" side of things. Certainly, it seems "fair" to ensure the punishment is equal to the crime, but fair isn't the same as just. Why don't you go Code of Hammurabi on someone, and inflict the same kind of injury? The logic still holds. Of course, it now requires people willing to commit torture and rape and the like, to equal the crime, but that's the logical conclusion of trying to be "fair".

But even without taking it to its conclusion, I'd contend "fairness" as you define it there isn't necessarily the best outcome for society; an ex-hacker is probably an excellent choice when hiring for electronic security, an ex-robber an excellent choice for hiring for physical security, etc. Even a murderer can go on to great things that benefit society. I mean, hell, Miguel De Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, the first modern novel, wrote his first published work while in prison. The Birdman of Alcatraz (Robert Stroud), a murderer, published major works in ornithology, and found a cure for a bird disease. Rehabilitated criminals can still benefit all of us, as well as redeem themselves in their own eyes by doing good for themselves and their loved ones.

But all that aside, you're saying you believe the additional punishment should be societal scorn carried out by vigilantes (i.e., average citizens deciding the person shouldn't hold a job even though they've paid the price the courts decided on)? That hardly seems just or 'fair'.

There is a rights-based approach in which (a) yes, someone inflicting a harm on you gives you the right to inflict a proportionate harm on them; (b) you can then go to them and threaten to inflict this harm, and usually get them to agree to pay you a fine instead, thus benefiting both of you. Labor could be used to substitute for a fine if someone can't pay, although I think in today's prisons the prisoners don't necessarily do work.

There are problems. For example, breaking a professional tennis player's arm may be much more career-damaging, and arguably "worse", than breaking a professional chess player's arm; and excessive retaliation is itself a crime. In that case, it may be good to get a judge or some such to evaluate the severity before carrying out the retaliation. That also goes for judging the evidence—obviously, punishing someone for a crime they didn't commit is itself a crime. So one could imagine this turning into something at least vaguely resembling today's court system.

This is a jaw-droppingly horrific system you're imagining. Amongst other things you've effectively insulted rich criminals from any repercussions, and basically given them a slave underclass (please, no snarky comments about current justice system). Do you genuinely think this a good idea?

Our current legal system has evolved over many hundreds of years. I merely describe a set of initial conditions and a few possible early developments. The space of things it might evolve into seems pretty wide. I do suspect some of those things would be good. That said, in the meantime:

There have existed societies in which the penalty for murder was to pay a fine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weregild

Also, this doesn't insulate rich criminals from all repercussions. If they have enough money to pay the fines when murdering tens of people... well, you could try killing the criminal directly. You can do that today as well, if you're prepared to pay the price.

A really rich criminal could hire bodyguards, of course, but those would be costly, imperfect, and have some chance of turning against their employer. Ultimately it would become a rich guy in charge of an organized criminal gang, which... is also something that exists today.

We know how this goes, because forms of it are what the current system evolved into; there are obvious descendents of what you say in the legal system. But that doesn't mean applying it literally, as with your "early developments", wouldn't have awful consequences.

> ...If they have enough money to pay the fines when murdering tens of people...

It's not about "murdering tens of people". It's killing someone whilst drunk driving, or murdering someone in an argument. These situations clearly still happen in the current system. But with what you're saying codifies that, if someonene is rich, as long as their crime is not against someone else rich, they can generally avoid any repercussions. Blood libel is still a thing, can literally see it in action in countries which have legal systems that allow it.

Not really sure what your point here is in relation to my post. That if we didn't have a legal system or governmental authority that we collectively have agreed to allow to arbitrate these matters, it would be left up to individuals to do, and that such a system is ripe (per your later comments) of exploitation by the rich? I mean, sure, but hardly seems relevant to the comment or the current state of most countries.

Your attitude towards someone convicted of a criminal act isn’t uncommon, but it’s short-sighted. If the judicial system determines that the appropriate punishment for a crime is X years, then at the end of that time they should be given a chance at a fresh start. There are limits, of course, perhaps you don’t want to give them a security clearance, or a job that requires carrying a gun. Someone convicted of molesting children should probably never hold a job that gives them contact with children.

In the US at least, having a felony conviction (and the bar for that is not that high) is effectively a lifetime punishment. It’s incredibly difficult for someone with a felony conviction on their record to get a job with potential. That’s a big part of why the recidivism rate for felons is so high. They often don’t have many options to make a living.

> If the judicial system determines that the appropriate punishment for a crime is X years, then at the end of that time they should be given a chance at a fresh start.

This is a poor argument: the judicial system has also determined, by lack of prohibition, that it's appropriate for employers to discriminate based on criminal record.

'Determined that it's appropriate' is rather strong language for something the system simply does not universally address. In fact, EEOC guidance, and recent court cases, seem to indicate that were it brought in front of the courts, they would likely rule in favor of the plaintiffs (obviously with recent court packing by GOP that's more in question than it was a few years ago though). It's just that oftentimes, ex-criminals searching for jobs don't have the money to take such cases to court.

That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be changed.

But that wasn't your argument!

> at the end of that time they should be given a chance at a fresh start

It really was.

It might have been something you were thinking, but it's pretty much the opposite of what you said.

Often the judicial system is flat out wrong. In Ireland the prisons are so full everyone gets a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence for even public endangerment crimes.

Where do the occupants of the full prisons come from then? Are the prisons full of life sentence prisoners from back when they weren't full?

That's a good question which I don't have the answer to. Things used to be less lenient so it would stand to reason that spaces are taken by previous longer sentencees. Ireland doesn't have many spaces to begin with. From wikipedia:

> Prisons and prison population

>There are 12 prisons in the Republic of Ireland with a total bed capacity of 4,106 as of 31 December 2009. The daily average number of prisoners in custody in 2009 was 3,881. However, most of these prisons currently operate at or above capacity.[13] On 25 January 2011 the prison population stood at 4,541. There were about 80 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants in October 2015,[11] and in Northern Ireland it was 78 per 100,000 in February 2016.

This points to a cultural difference there that might be at the core the argument. In Europe prison has rehabilitation as one of it's goals. In the US it's almost entirely about punishment.

The state does more injustice in the name of "fairness" than almost any other agent for any ther reason.

I have to say "almost" as there is the very rare criminal who is actually mean and targets people the way the state does.

People denied access. Denied votes. Denied work. Denied the means to live.

Hard disagree on that. As a programmer we have access to more than most accountants. How hard would it be for most programmers to put in a backdoor they could later claim was a bug?

Criminal convictions are perhaps not the best measure of trustability.

> As a programmer we have access to more than most accountants

Do we? What does the average programmer working on internal business applications, b2b services or CMSs have access to that is of any risk?

It's always hard to estimate what the average case is for something like this. But I would guess that the average programmer do have access to "production data". What that contain is obviously industry specific, and the most sensitive industries are (hopefully) well regulated and not average, like health care or finance.

But I would guess that programmers at Tinder/Grindr/$datingSite had access to production data in the early days. Probably many SaaS things, perhaps doing stuff in the HR/recruitment/time reporting area. For B2B I'm guessing many programmers have access to business sensitive data, that competitors would like to get their hands on. At the least I would guess that at least the average backend developer have access to all contact info / emails for all users in services they work on.

Obviously all best practices say that random Joe programmer shouldn't have access to these things, but I don't think that match the _average_ reality.

I think so. Many sites have some sort of sensitive user data that could be exploited. If you work in ecommerce, you likely have access to the payment gateway as well.

> How hard would it be for most programmers to put in a backdoor they could later claim was a bug?

My guess is that is actually pretty fricking hard, as otherwise it'd be happening all the time. I.e. you can maybe make a backdoor to something without monetary consequences (even in a bank most systems don't handle money), but introducing a backdoor to the core system (i.e. a money-dealing one) in such a way that it is not noticed in code reviews or testing AND you can claim plausible deniability seems hard.

This is why all non-trivial applications need to have a code review process and a CI/CD pipeline that ensures that no application goes into production except via that pipeline, and that all code is reviewed prior to deployment. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s a start.

How do you hotfix production? Do you have a special "go fast" flag in the pipeline?

In my experience, the pipeline itself is a negligible amount of time. Directly hotfixing something is a high risk thing that no company I've ever worked for would tolerate.

If your pipeline doesn't allow you to deploy quickly, fix the pipeline. Nothing should go to production that doesn't go through the pipeline.

You don't. You build the ability to roll back to a good state.

> Criminal convictions are perhaps not the best measure of trustability.

Unskillful or unlucky criminals are prosecuted by the law, more careful criminals often defy the law.

What crimes are applicable to software engineers, then? I don't think there are any laws punishing you from writing bad code, nor are there laws addressing data theft or security misconfigurations. GDPR applies against companies and not individual people, as far as I can tell.

Would the only valid crimes be related to computer hacking?

> Would the only valid crimes be related to computer hacking?

Not necessarily. When working for a fintech or a bank, financial crimes can be very relevant. Writing bad code is, lucky me, not directly punishable as a crime.

I could assume hacking, fraud, corporate espionage, etc. along with info relevant to the software (i.e. if you make banking software I'd assume fiscal crime would be at least somewhat relevant)

Hacking would probably be a plus for a software enginer. They know how to debug systems.

Espionage, theft, and violent crimes... That's a different situation (I don't want someone coming after me after I liter their PR with comments)

A charge of 'hacking' is like a charge of 'breaking and entering'. They could have cracked a bank vault mission-impossible style, or maybe they threw a brick through the window.

For all you know, they could have 'hacked in' via the password on the post-it on their coworkers monitor.

I threw a brick through a bank vault. Does that qualify?

I know a guy who spent a year in federal prison on bogus wire fraud charges for an article published in a hacker magazine. He was afraid it would cripple his career, but the opposite was true. He's now the chief technologist at a major CDN and his prison time translated into a badass semi-legendary hacker image.

Sure, and embezzlement might be a plus for a very specific finance job, namely, searching for evidence that embezzlement has happened.

Point is that it's relevant under those circumstances, and fair play for an employer search. Drunken and disorderly is not.

> Hacking would probably be a plus for a software enginer. They know how to debug systems.

They also apparently have poor judgement and/or security practices, if they got themselves convicted under CFAA or similar. And possibly questionable moral integrity depending on what and how they were hacking.

Background checks are not intended to evaluate skills but to find risks. Having a hacking conviction is generally not a positive signal.

Whereas if they're convicted for hacking, they'll only go after your digital assets/devices, so... no worries? After all, hacking convictions are a plus.

Writing an entire operating system in an inherently insecure language?

This seems to be a pretty popular crime.

If you write software for banks, than all the crimes a banker could commit are easy for your to hide in code. If you write software for pharmacies then you can probably figure out how to to get any prescription you want to abuse into the system.

>What crimes are applicable to software engineers, then?

Ever see office Space? ;-)

>Would the only valid crimes be related to computer hacking?

Or willingly install Windows Server facing the internet directly, that would be the other one ;)

"Directly facing the internet" is a legitimate Windows Server configuration scenario for some use cases.

Yes a Honeypot...but i thinks that's it.

DirectAccess and Web Application Proxy are 2 actual examples.

Yeah just leave me out of your projects please ;)

I would think any crime inflicting bodily harm is relevant, as long as you work near people with bodies.

What you said implies that any person that has committed a violent crime remains a danger to other people, forever - and should also be punished, forever.

This is what the American justice system is like.

In a saner world, (only) people who are a danger to others would be separated from the society, and being set free would be and indication that you are no longer a danger.

In the US, being released from prison signals you are more dangerous than if you got away with your crime.

Conversely, someone who was already willing to violently attack another person is probably much more likely to do it again?

They’ve likely also noticed that the time they spent in the funhouse afterwards was not so fun after all. So even if this were true (which I don’t think it is), they might think twice about going at it again.

If someone is more likely to do it again because they are mentally unstable, they shouldn’t be released.

Most people will attack another person, if sufficiently provoked.

Crimes of passion are a thing.

It may be that it's not a criteria for not hiring them, but never-the-less something you want to keep an eye one once you do. And perhaps something you want to ask them about at interview.

I dunno, it takes a lot more than a fistfight to get put in prison for violent offense. Sure people can change but only a solid work history or trusted recommendation can give you any real confidence. You may have to fire this person, or they may have to report to an abusive manage for some period of time. Some offenses are difficult to walk away from untainted.

The summer after I graduated from HS a kid I knew got into a fist fight in the parking lot of a bar. He was punched once and he went down and cracked his skull on the curb and died.

The person who hit him was charged with manslaughter.

Wow, that’s tragic

>I dunno, it takes a lot more than a fistfight to get put in prison for violent offense.

Citation needed.

Perjury maybe? A lot of compliance relies on truthful reporting by employees.

I don't know of specific cases where a programmer was prosecuted, but I believe that knowingly and negligently leaving holes in compliance-heavy health technology (HIPAA) could result in prosecution.

In the United States "Unauthorized use of a computer" is a felony.

Scrollbar hijacking should be 20 years to life.

We need more of this. A criminal record in the US is a curse for life, leaving former criminals with little chance at success and little to live for. People without much to live for are dangerous. We should help our former criminals rather than condemn them for life--it benefits us all.

leaving former criminals with little chance at success

It's worth noting that it also leaves their children a smaller chance at success as well[0], and then the cycle continues. When you add this to the fact that Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders [1], this adds up to one aspect of systemic racism in America.

0 - https://projects.sfchronicle.com/2016/captive-lives/

1 - https://www.ussc.gov/research/research-reports/demographic-d...

It's important to note that [1] seems to refer to federal sentencing, and almost all criminal law in the U.S. is state law. [1] is a small subset of what's going on, and it can't be used to generalize.

Election polls are a tiny subset of the general public, but they do offer very powerful insights into wider trends.

Is there any reason to believe that Federal judges are more racially biased compared to State judges? I'd be shocked if State judges as a group are more color-blind than Federal judges.

Election polls are designed to do exactly that, whereas this sample isn't anything even approaching a random subset that could be used for inference about the whole population.

It may be the case that in state courtrooms judges are the same, worse, or better, but making that inference on the basis of federal-level data is probably unjustified.

Not the OP, but it is interesting that the US criminal law is so state dependent. Out of curiosity: do you have reason to believe that the sentencing disparity is better when considering states?

I have reason to believe that the sentencing disparity is like the gender pay gap: easy to prove, if that helps your political goals, and also easy to disprove, if that suits you better.

Statistics is hard, and the entire reason there's leeway in sentencing is to account for situations which are resistant to statistical regularity.

There is, or was, a pretty obvious source of disparity in US law: freebase cocaine was a felony at much smaller quantities than cocaine salt, and the former was more likely to be used and dealt by black Americans.

Would that show up in such an analysis? They were different convictions, after all. So the only answer can be "yes or no", and so on ad infinitum.

I'm fairly convinced that the fact that marijuana is illegal (federally) and alcohol/tobacco are legal without a prescription has more to do with the populations who typically used them than with any medical or scientific basis on dangerousness.


Sure, and that's another thing that wouldn't show up in statistics directly.

Although it's important to note that alcohol was illegal, and tobacco is becoming increasingly low-status and accordingly restricted.

The end of Prohibition meant that the enforcement apparatus for it needed something new to do. I believe this was another contributing factor to continuing the broken logic of Prohibition with new substances.

That's... actually pretty interesting concept to consider.

Sometimes I do wonder how much better we could all get along if some substances had relaxed or dropped restrictions.

When you think about it, there's the mental toll on users about public disapproval amplified by the legal status. On top of that, the divide on the non user side about someone being a "lawbreaker".

Just seems to cause a lot of division. On top of the illegality of harder drugs leading to the rise of cartels and gangs.

Just thinking out loud. What if the US said 'screw it', try making everything legal for 5-10 years, produce what it can locally, and just see what happens. The hope with this idea is that one could starve out the cartels while perhaps providing a path to rehabilitation.

All of that said, I am still a believer in the Rat Park experiment. If we solved some of our more real problems people perhaps wouldn't need to turn to such substances, as examples by the reports of drug use increasing under lockdown conditions. Reality seems to match the experiment. The thing about that experiment, they found if the rat's other needs were met (food, shelter, socialization) they actually would start to prefer normal water to drugged water again.


I worry that we have raised a bunch of people in the mindset of "if the government allows it, it's safe" and rather than thinking critically about it may assume that they just figured out it was safe. The more drug-tolerant cultures (such as the Netherlands and Portugal) have "evolved" an understanding of drugs culturally such that you don't see a bunch of locals stoned out of their gourds in the coffeeshops all day. I hate the "war on drugs" and the terrible costs it has imposed, but I think that flipping the switch to anything goes is unlikely to end well.

If it’s just about social issues specific to the US, why is it exactly the same in so many other countries? In fact the US did try to make alcohol illegal but it was a shitshow. In my country they’d NEVER touch alcohol yet weed is illegal. Even though it’s the same ethnic group using both.

Hypothetical reasons why this may be the case:

1. The most egregiously racist judges probably work in districts which they rarely encounter minorities.

2. Regions with large minority populations have to deal with much more crime in general, so may have lighter sentences for equally severe crimes.

3. Minorities are more likely to plead out and never go to trial, skewing sample size.

To be clear, I doubt that state judges are better than federal ones. After all, criminal justice corruption in smaller towns in America is staggering. Not too long ago, a judge was indicted for being bribed by the owners of a jail to hand down severe sentences to minority offenders.

Is there any evidence that the sentences are longer after controlling for variables such as (1) differences in previous convictions which increase sentence duration, (2) severity of the crime?

If this evidence is provided, I am happy to agree with you that there is systematic racism in the justice system.

Yes. There is abundant evidence of this.


I found this with literally 30 seconds of googling. https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-pu...

Don't be willfully ignorant and don't expect other people to do your homework.

Also, here's a lengthy summary of a wide variety of instances of racial bias in the justice system from policing to sentencing and so forth with links to primary sources. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/opinions/system...

Again, don't be willfully ignorant and don't expect other people to do your homework for you.

It’s funny watching people come up with all these complicated epicycle-ridden theories for why success is heritable, when the true answer is very obvious - most behaviors related to success are highly genetically heritable. This is the incontrovertible conclusion one draws when they critically observe the results of highly controlled and conditioned twin/sibling studies (on incarceration rate, among other things). Of course, this flies against the western “all men are created equal” soft-religious indoctrination most people get in school, so it’s less difficult for them to come up with these complicated (and relatively very unlikely) models.

> most behaviors related to success are highly genetically heritable

And the implications of this are what?

See, that's the problem with these claims. They serve no purpose other than to suggest that some people are inherently better or more deserving than others. But we live in a liberal democracy based on equality before the law. It wouldn't matter if some people are more predisposed to crime or smarter or whatever. The law should be blind.

The implication is that if one genetic group is getting poorer outcomes than another group, you can't automatically assume it's due to discrimination.

This is an important implication because it completely undercuts many extremely important power structures, which use accusations of discrimination as their legitimizing argument. Which is why the science on this is resisted so hard.

The idea of anyone being inferior to anyone else is completely something you brought into the conversation. Normal people understand that being short does not make one inferior, nor does skin color, nor personality, nor intelligence. It just changes statistical outcomes. Not moral value.

If you think genetic differences between people make some people morally inferior, I would say that's a moral problem with you. Because even on the individual level, if not the group level, genetic differences are obvious and undeniable. Do you really think someone who scores low on an IQ test is morally inferior to you or deserves to suffer? I don't. If not, what's the problem with accepting the science on genetic group difference, especially given that it helps us reduce suffering in the world?

If the law is blind, you expect people with heritable traits associated with criminality to get in trouble with the law more often. I.e. all is as expected.

the implications are that a bit of gene pool control may go a long way.

>A criminal record in the US is a curse for life

The US system probably is overly harsh -- in Ireland it's probaby overly lenient and the pendulum affect is that we've criminals being called in to court with literally hundreds of prior convictions and then they're let off with suspended sentences and then go straight back to what they were doing.

Equally frustrating -- to see the guilty just walk off and laugh as it is to see the redeemed struggle having conceded their mistakes. Justice is very important, hard and complex. I don't doubt that but their clearly is room for improvement on both sides.

> Equally frustrating -- to see the guilty just walk off and laugh as it is to see the redeemed struggle having conceded their mistakes.

That of course depends on your value system. There are many that consider sending an innocent person to jail far worse than letting a guilty person walk free, and I’m sure you can apply a similar worldview here as well.

Getting guilt right and what punishment to dispense to the guilty are different questions. For example you could have 100-member juries with unanimous verdicts required, but also execute anyone convicted of any crime.

> Getting guilt right and what punishment to dispense to the guilty are different questions.

I disagree.

If your legal system executes people, they are inseparable questions.

I would generalize to say that the more severe your sentences, the more those two questions are related.

It sounds like you two are disagreeing over the unmentioned error rate.

If I get a parking ticket unjustly, it may piss me off, but it isn't a big deal. If I am convicted of a serious crime unjustly, it matters far more.

Whereas the grandparent, I think, is asserting the guilt or innocence is (or should be) an objective fact independent of what anyone does about it.

I think you're arguing a different point. Sure there's a relationship, but these are not the same question:

"Did Joe kill Dave?"

"Given that we've decided that Joe did kill Dave, what should Joe's punishment be?"

They can become one.

For instance:

  1) Did Joe steal that apple?
  2a)Do we chop off Joe's hand, like law says? 
  2b)Do we make Joe repay the apple, and get community work?
There are people (myself included) that would answer the 1 question differently depending on the second question

The difference is that crimes are usually done against other people. I as a citizen can usually defend myself against wrongdoing by other people, but I can only defend myself against state wrongdoing in the state's courts, with the state's rules. Being imbalanced one way is not as equally harmful as being imbalanced the other way.

Giving petty criminals a chance to reform is important since most petty crime is driven by factors other than inherent criminality of the individual but it should not be possible to just keep racking up petty offenses to the detriment of everyone who's victimized by them.

Yes, but the argument of "detriment to everyone" is only used to further lengthen sentences, but never address any of the inputs that lead to such crime. And that's because of the draconian character of the US concerning law and punishment.

I agree that we need to work on the frontend problems that are driving so much crime and that we should prefer to be rehabilitative instead of punitive in our approach to crime; however, it's not obvious to me how being punitive dissuades us from addressing inputs--could you elaborate?

(note that I'm a different 'throwaway' than the OP)

> The US system probably is overly harsh -- in Ireland it's probaby overly lenient

The US system is overly harsh to some groups of people and overly lenient to others, and the imbalance creates its own set of problems.

I would love to see sane prison reform based on data and science.

As with everything, there is a balance. It requires everlasting vigilance.

Out of interest what proportion of criminals let off with suspended sentences have hundreds of convictions?

I don't have statistics but there are incidents like these that are regularly reported in Irish and International Media:


Sounds like that lady needs care more than she needs more prison time. Particularly after a 16 month sentence and the petty nature of the actual crime.

Incidents like these get in the national press precisely because they are rare and hence interesting. Do you think there are tens of people, hundred of people or thousands of people with >100 criminal convictions?

In Germany, that would Intensivtäter (literally intensive perpetrators). It's not rare to have young men with dozens of convictions for assault, breaking and entering, mugging etc. They typically don't get any jail time and will collect more indictments between being arrested and seeing a judge. For Berlin they're having a list of 500 people, almost all male.

The same is true in The Netherlands. Often these individuals share the same backgrounds: (illegal) immigrants from North Africa, mainly Morocco and Algeria. Countries that The Netherlands regard as safe, which means these individuals can’t get a refugee status. In case of Morocco, from my understanding, Morocco isn’t interested in accepting their former subjects [0], so it’s impossible for The Netherlands to send these repeat offenders back.


[0]: https://nltimes.nl/2019/11/22/morocco-refusing-speak-nl-taki...

I wonder how much better you could make society if you managed to take the worst 1% of scumbags and remove them.

Western Europe did pretty much that for hundreds of years.

> Through its monopoly on violence, the State tends to pacify social relations. Such pacification proceeded slowly in Western Europe between the 5th and 11th centuries, being hindered by the rudimentary nature of law enforcement, the belief in a man’s right to settle personal disputes as he saw fit, and the Church’s opposition to the death penalty. These hindrances began to dissolve in the 11th century with a consensus by Church and State that the wicked should be punished so that the good may live in peace. Courts imposed the death penalty more and more often and, by the late Middle Ages, were condemning to death between 0.5 and 1.0% of all men of each generation, with perhaps just as many offenders dying at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, the homicide rate plummeted from the 14th century to the 20th. The pool of violent men dried up until most murders occurred under conditions of jealousy, intoxication, or extreme stress. The decline in personal violence is usually attributed to harsher punishment and the longer-term effects of cultural conditioning. It may also be, however, that this new cultural environment selected against propensities for violence.


Significantly worse, I'd say.

> The US system probably is overly harsh -- in Ireland it's probaby overly lenient and the pendulum affect is that we've criminals being called in to court with literally hundreds of prior convictions and then they're let off with suspended sentences and then go straight back to what they were doing.

FWIW, it's not evenly distributed in the US. We have jurisdictions like Chicago where violent offenders are released on probation after a few months or years only to reoffend. Further, these violent crimes aren't evenly distributed across Chicago, but rather they disproportionately affect poor, typically minority communities. It's well-known that crime (esp violent) is driving businesses (and jobs) out of these communities and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Presumably these light-on-crime policies (and similarly "defund the police") are a misguided attempt to help these communities, since the criminal justice system is biased against the poor and minorities (and men, but that seems to not factor into any calculus); however, they're exacerbating the very problem they purport to solve. Indeed, Chicago appears to be on track for its most violent year since the gang wars of the early nineties, after decades of consistent, remarkable, commendable progress.

For me, this underscores the importance of properly understanding the dynamics of the problem we're trying to solve--it's not sufficient to be well-intentioned or to have the right bumper sticker. It also highlights the importance of free-speech and open inquiry, since we can't collectively understand these dynamics without the kind of robust debate that proponents of political correctness and cancel culture aspire to suppress. And note that their intentions are presumably good--they don't want (at least some) hateful talking points to be espoused; however, the well-being of these communities isn't worth trading in exchange for the suppression of hateful talking points (never mind the more abstract reasons for preserving free speech, such as "what happens when your ideological cohort falls out of power and someone else gets to decide what speech is permissible?") and moreover prior to the mainstreaming of restrictive-speech ideals (let's say circa 2014-2015 but this is all pretty fuzzy), this really wasn't a problem--American society did a pretty good job of marginalizing those who would openly espouse hateful viewpoints (although some will advocate for a meaninglessly broad definition of 'hate' or would argue that any speech from anyone they don't like can fairly be considered a 'racist dogwhistle', but those kinds of bad faith arguments notwithstanding...) and things were gradually improving for everyone.

Anyway, I apologize for going a bit off track. Hopefully this stream-of-consciousness prompts productive discussion and introspection.

> never mind the more abstract reasons for preserving free speech, such as "what happens when your ideological cohort falls out of power and someone else gets to decide what speech is permissible?"

Most people that I talk to opposed to net neutrality are opposed it solely because this point is deeply concerning to them.

Broadly speaking, people are quick to give the government additional power when it aligns with their interests, but are critical of the government when the additional power is used for things they disagree with.

What's the objective of this comment? It starts off talking about "Chicago = War Zone" and then it devolves into the ground state of HN's favorite whipping children of "cancel culture", "free speech" and how "The well-being of these communities shouldn't be exchanged for free-speech(?)". I'm not even sure what the last point was meant to be about other than showing angst at the idea that racist comments are largely derided and marginalized.

> What's the objective of this comment? It starts off talking about "Chicago = War Zone" and then it devolves into the ground state of HN's favorite whipping children of "cancel culture", "free speech" and how "The well-being of these communities shouldn't be exchanged for free-speech(?)".

Chicago isn't a warzone. Last year I bought my first home here. I wouldn't live here if it were a warzone. But it does have problems and I have a vested interest in their resolution (or more realistically, reducing their impact). I think I explained pretty clearly how I see cancel culture, etc relating to these problems. If you have specific questions, I'm happy to try to answer (I don't claim perfect knowledge, I'm only sharing my perspective).

> "The well-being of these communities shouldn't be exchanged for free-speech(?)". I'm not even sure what the last point was meant to be about other than showing angst at the idea that racist comments are largely derided and marginalized.

I don't know how you got "angst at the idea that racist comments are largely derided and marginalized". I explicitly noted that marginalizing actual racism is a good thing. The problem is that a lot of necessary debate is considered beyond the pale such that we are only allowed to talk about the solutions which (pretty obviously) are only going to exacerbate the problem, such as reducing policing in the communities most in need and letting violent offenders out without the necessary rehabilitation. Your comment (inadvertently, I'm sure) lumps these concerns in with "racist comments", illustrating perfectly my issue with political correctness. I understand the desire for a simple worldview with a group of purely good guys and a group of purely bad guys, but I'm interested in solving real world problems and the real world has a lot of nuance to be explored. We have to be able to talk about that nuance in order to solve these problems. We're not doing these communities any favors by avoiding unpleasant complexities.

Okay, so tell us what these "unpleasant complexities" that we're avoiding are.

As previously discussed, we can't improve neighborhoods plagued by violent crime simply by releasing offenders early or pulling police out of those neighborhoods. Anyway, this conversation seems to be veering toward an unproductive direction. I'll see myself out.

Perhaps things like crime rates amongst different segments of the population.

People are losing their jobs because of offhand tweets completely unrelated to their occupation; how can we expect that a blemish as big as a criminal record will be overlooked?

Unfortunately, I don't think that's it. The same subset of my coworkers who requested that we don't invite Scott Aaronson to our colloquium because he said something vaguely anti-feminist years ago are perfectly happy to praise (literal murderer and talented number theorist) Christopher Havens, and I'm sure would be happy to have him employed by our department.

edit: Of course, universities still don't hire violent offenders, but I don't think the reasons for not employing a Twitter-pariah and not employing a murderer are closely related at all.

I'd rather hire a criminal (depending on the crime, obviously) than, say, a racist, especially given how many laws I disagree with.

There's a problem though:

- The standard of proof in criminal law is very high. There are very specific definitions of most criminal acts and these must be proven "beyond reasonable doubt"

- The definition of "racist tweet" on the other hand is as fuzzy as it can be. Usually it drills down to "someone whom I don't like said something that I have interpreted in the way I don't like"

If we think that racist tweets should bear harsh consequences, we need a bit better criteria of what "racist" actually means.

Proof of criminal law in the US is notoriously low. Police perjury especially concerning marginalized groups is routine business.



Have you ever been on a jury?

The vast majority of those incarcerated in America have taken plea deals. The only source I could find from a government agency is a 1984 report from the BJS but it's fairly staggering - median ratio of 11 guilty pleas for every trial[1].

More recent nongovernmental sources paint a very similar picture [2][3]

So whatever your feeling about the standard of proof in a criminal trial, the vast majority of those incarcerated never actually went through one.

[1] https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=3498 [2] https://www.innocenceproject.org/guilty-pleas-on-the-rise-cr... [3] https://www.themarshallproject.org/2014/12/26/plea-bargainin...

What do you think a good definition of “racist tweet” would be?

There shouldn't be one. Everything bad about a racist tweet is bad when race isn't an issue.

Society has switched what it is racist about many times in the past. Just 100 years ago (WWI was just over) it was worse to be German than black in the US. Someone told me that in the 1870s the KKK had many black members - the group was against Catholics not blacks, but they changed (I do not know if this is true, but even if false it isn't unlikely). It will switch again.

Whatever your law is needs to cover all cases, otherwise it will be worked around quickly.

That assertion about the KKK is, in fact, a myth. The KKK was founded in 1865, just after the US Civil War, and had as a bedrock principal the re-establishment of white supremacy. It's initial actions were to frustrate Reconstruction-era policies through violent action. Today, they'd be labeled a terrorist organization. Their aims were inherently racist, political and their tactics violent. Through a variety of means, they more or less achieved their goals such that by 1876, the entire south was once again under Democratic control.

It wasn't until the revival of the "second wave" of the KKK during 1910's and 1920's that they even started taking on anti-catholic stances. It was during this era that the burning cross, anti-communist, anti-catholic and anti-jewish stances came into being.

Finally, I have no idea where you got the idea that the KKK had "many black members". As far as I'm aware, no credible evidence for that has ever been put forward.

That is why I was clear that it wasn't a source I would trust.

The definition can refer to any innate quality.

The whole idea of these rules is to avoid discriminating people based on something outside of their control: color, gender, height, age, country of origin and so on.

"[Do bad things] to [racial minority|racial group]!"

The definition of "bad things" is left as an exercise to the reader.

I wonder, if one could go even farther in your generalization such that it would apply to ~all human activity, might people be able to semi-realize that "The definition of <X> is left as an exercise to the reader", where "an exercise to the reader" actually consists of the reader's conceptualization of reality (much of which is pure imagination, mistaken for fact), and from there perhaps realize that this is what lies at the heart of most human conflict and failures?

It seems like quite the tall order, but then humanity has a very long list of conquered tall orders, because some people were willing to pursue the "impossible", and we also happen to be blessed with some very powerful tools (some of which often work against us).

I doubt there is one.

Does that mean the concept has no value, or that racist tweets do not exist (since they cannot be easily defined)?

It's a tweet that explicitly promotes superiority or inferiority of one race relative to other races.

What if one race really is superior or inferior to another? For example "Tibetans are better at surviving at high altitudes than Han Chinese" Fact but racist according to that definition. Harsh consequences for scientists talking about their work?

High altitudes are a social construct, duh.

Awesome. Now define all of the races such that they are specific enough to create legal interpretations of promote, superiority, and inferiority in such a way that relative comparisons can be made.

>"The standard of proof in criminal law is very high. There are very specific definitions of most criminal acts and these must be proven "beyond reasonable doubt"

This is nice theory which in practice often comes down to: you can not afford proper defense (unless you want government lawyer who will happily sleep through the whole case), you do not have enough to make bail so here is the deal: plead guilty to this lesser crime or we would f,,k you up royally later on.

As with all things there is a judgment to be made, and as the one doing the hiring it is yours to make responsibly.

"Usually it drills down to "someone whom I don't like said something that I have interpreted in the way I don't like""

"Usually" ...

LOL ...

You say this, but most prison time is done for extreme crime that everyone agrees with. In addition this, prison time is usually reserved for not just crimes we agree with but crimes we all agree are extreme.

Case in point for this specific case it was violent crime, which I'm sure we can all agree is way worse than a racist tweet.

I'm not sure your statements about prison time are accurate, at least in the US.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 46.2% of inmates are in for drug offenses[1] and there is definitely disagreement about whether that should be a crime, let alone an extreme crime. Additionally, 78.6% of inmates are serving sentences longer than 5 years[2], which by necessity means that a large portion of those are for drug offenses.

[1] https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offen... [2] https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_sente...

But only about 10% of prisoners are in Federal custody.

Among those in state prisons, drug possession is about 3% of cases (about equal to DUI plus fraud cases). Other drug charges make up about 10%.

> in state prisons, drug possession is about 3% of cases

You're going to need to source that unbelievably low number.

In my state, drug crimes represent the second largest proportion of prison inmates - a bit fewer than criminal sexual conduct a bit more than homicide: https://mn.gov/doc/assets/Adult%20Prison%20Population%20Summ...

Source is [1], 45k / 1290k for drug possession (and nothing harder), plus 145k for other drug charges (which I guess is closer to 11% not 10% as I said).

Minnesota's 17% isn't that far off the national number it seems. They don't give a breakdown for simple possession. Violent crimes at 55% are again a majority.

[1] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html

What percentage of those drug offenses are usage vs distribution?

If I had, let's say, less than $1000 worth of drugs - enough for a few weeks of personal consumption, but on occasion I sell a bit to one of my buddies. Does that make me a "distributor"? It did according to the law.

You're unlikely to find any realistic statistics on usage vs "distribution" due to that.

That's a good point, I'd like to see some research into that question.

> You say this, but most prison time is done for extreme crime that everyone agrees with. In addition this, prison time is usually reserved for not just crimes we agree with but crimes we all agree are extreme.

If only that were accurate. Prison time in the US is not given out in proportion to the seriousness of the crime, and the amount of prison time is highly variable depending on locale, race of offender, race of victim, and many other factors.

The two are not mutually exclusive. You can have a majority of serious offenders in your prison population that also happen to be from certain locales/race/etc...

Isn't a huge amount of prison time in the US handed out for selling banned substances to other consenting adults?

In total, about a half million people are in jail or prison for having, using, or selling drugs. Drug crimes account for about half of Federal prisoners.

But percentage-wise, when you add up federal, state, and local prisons and jails, drugs are not as large a percentage as you'd think. Another half million people in prisons or jails haven't been convicted of any crime at all, either because they can't afford bail or because they're just being processed today. If you had to guess what someone went to jail for, and you only knew they were in a State penitentiary, violent crime would be your best guess.

Here's a bit pie chart: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html

What's not captured here is that drugs are a contributing factor to many of the crimes committed. An old and rather tired example is the junky stealing to get his next fix. The crime is robbery, but the cause is drugs.

I would argue (having been in jail myself multiple times, and, by the way, thanks to a lot of factors, now very happily and gainfully employed) that drugs are at the very least a co-factor on the vast majority of crimes in the USA.

I think most people understand this.

What I'd like to see is the junkie to just get drugs from the government. It's cheaper for society to pay for a $20 fix (That costs $2 to produce), then for $500 dollars in property damage, a stolen $200 item that gets fenced for $20, a cop to show up to do a police report, and then, months down the road, an arrest, prison time, etc, etc.

Same thing with prisoners and rehabilitation. Letting prisoners attend colleges for free is a remarkably good government investment.

The same thing is true about the homeless. Homeless services are expensive. It's cheaper to get them apartments, even if you still offer them all of the support services you were offering before.

But whenever you propose these things, social conservatives seem to come out of the woodwork and argue that it's not fair for prisoners or homeless people to get expensive stuff for free. Why should you get something good for doing a bad thing? Why should the homeless guy get an apartment that you'd paying $1000 a month for? Why should your taxes be buying drugs for that junkie? Even if you have to spend more taxes by not giving them these things, your sense of justice demands it be so.

> The same thing is true about the homeless. Homeless services are expensive. It's cheaper to get them apartments, even if you still offer them all of the support services you were offering before.

We already do that, though, through things like food stamps and section 8 housing. It's expensive, but it works, because it keeps a lot of poor people fed and sheltered.

The visible homeless that you see are people who tend to have additional problems, on top of being poor (Untreated addiction and mental health problems are two big causes of this.)

When you say a co-factor, can you say more about what you have in mind?

For instance it could be a junky who needs to feed his own habit. It could be that the profits available from dealing in some area motivate gangs to take control of it. And it could also be just that people taking drugs have impaired judgement, and do things they would avoid while sober. Would you care to guess how much of each goes on?

For alcohol, I guess it's mainly the 3rd (DUI, and manslaughter, etc.) and a tiny bit of the 1st (shoplifting to buy a drink).

Let me put it this way: if you were to create a Venn diagram of habitual drug and alcohol users and people who get incarcerated, 90+% of the incarcerated people would also be in the habitual users circle.

I know correlation doesn't imply causation, but that's not the argument I'm making here.

There's also a lot of people pleading to the drug offence to get off of the property crime.

This is people in prison, not people sent to prison. Given that violent crimes have longer sentences, wouldn't that skew the existing count in prison considerably towards violent offenders, even if many more people are sent to prison for other offenses?

Further, because there would be shorter sentences, you're far more likely to encounter a candidate with a lesser sentence.

About 10-20% of prisoners are in for nothing more serious than drugs, and if you try to exclude trafficking, then it's closer to the 10% end.


Drug convictions make up a large portion of federal inmates, but federal inmates are a minority of the prison population.

Yep. Drug laws (and the police/legal system in general) also disproportionately targets people of color.

I'm having a hard time finding data for the state in question (California), but at a federal level this is very much not true. BOP stats show 46% of inmates are in for drug offenses, and 5% are in for property crime[1]

[1] https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offen...

There are nearly half a million people incarcerated in the US for nonviolent drug offenses [0].

Do you think we all agree that these are extreme crimes?

[0] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html

I would hope that all agree a violent crime is worse than a racist tweet. However, there is a sentiment of sympathy afforded to murderers (that they're somehow deserving of rehabilitation) which is not always extended to those who have tweeted racist things.

Perhaps this comes because a murder can be seen as a sad result of circumstances. Perhaps the criminal only had to murder because they had a bad upbringing and needed the cash and it was a horrible mistake. On the other hand, people perceived as racist are permanently marked as being ideologically dangerous. Mainly, I think this comes because racist tweeters can be seen as more directly responsible for their actions than a murderer.

Of course, this line of reasoning is nonsense, but it appears to be quite common.

Jon Ronson has a great TED talk about this, titled "How one tweet can ruin your life": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAIP6fI0NAI. I would recommend that the grandparent post watch this.

I'm perfectly willing to:

a) Understand violent criminals have made amends and are rehabilitated

b) Believe that people who were once racist are no longer racist

Both issues are, to me, a 'sad result of circumstances'. So all of that seems fine.

As am I.

The point I was trying to make was that there isn't really a "path to rehabilitation" for people who have made very minor missteps online. In the case of the linked TED talk, the persecuted woman made a mistake, and was not a "career-racist". I think even accusing her of racism is a distortion of the word — she made a bad joke in bad taste.

Meanwhile, there is an established, albeit broken path to rehabilitation for ex-convicts. There is also a certain faction of the left which seems to be more willing to accept prison reform than "tweet-reform".

I think it should be far more easy to rehabilitate oneself from a bad tweet than a murder, and that they are entirely different classes of offences.

Oh I agree entirely that we lack paths to rehabilitation for both the (a) and (b) cases, couldn't agree more - it makes the judgment call to hire that much more difficult.

I'm glad we can agree on that.

While that's true, there's no comparison between (a) and (b) in terms of how bad the original offense is. One is murder and the other is a thought crime.

I can compare anything I like, actually. That's my right and my responsibility as the one who determines who comes to work with me and my colleagues.

You can say that all "though crimes" are incomparable to legal indictments, and when you are hiring people that is your right as well.

I didn't mean that there's no way you can make a comparison in a literal sense.

I mean that it takes a particularly screwed up and deranged individual to think that murder and racist thoughts are somehow equivalent on the moral scale. Also, I'm not claiming that this is the position you are taking, only that it would be deranged if it is the one you are in fact taking.

This whole conversation started off with "any crime" vs "a definitively racist tweet", not "murder" vs "thought crime".

Trying to consider any of these things in isolation is worthless and not really something that makes sense to discuss, it's just a sillier version of the trolley problem. Context is going to be everything.

Could someone convicted of murder be worth hiring? Yeah, sure, I'm not willing to say that that's not the case - what if they had an untreated medical condition, just as one potential contextual element? It's not worth discussing because it will end up with a "but what if but what if but what if".

The point I will definitely make is the original point I made - that if I determine someone to be a racist that is important to me, and if I find that someone is a criminal I will need more context before I determine that it is important to me.

Thanks for making this point. This is what I was trying to get at. Racist thoughts, to some, are seen as offences in the same way murder is, while they're not.

Murder is a very clearly defined criminal act, to tweet something racist is an expression of free speech. Racism is inexcusable, but in an entirely different way than murder.

Would you prefer to be murdered or to recieve a racist remark directed towards you?

Do you think this question is relevant or clever? I would rather a racist remark me directed towards me. I hope that satisfies whatever you're after.

just trying to suss out if you thought there are levels of severity of various crimes / negative behaviors, which I was unsure of based on earlier comments.

> people perceived as racist are permanently marked as being ideologically dangerous.

I don't think this is necessarily true. We just haven't seen many racist people make amends and ask for forgiveness. I believe people can change and if they do, they should be reintegrated into the workplace.

I hadn't given it much thought before, but I asked myself if I would hire or work with a former criminal qualified for the job. It's a touchy subject, but I decided I would if they are rehabilitated: shown remorse, served a sentence, and working to integrate society.

And I realized the same goes for a racist statement (or sexist or anti-LGBTQ). Racism get tried in the court of public opinion, and then there is a sentence of being shunned in the form of unemployability. But if the formerly racist person shows remorse and publicly states they have changed, I would be willing to hire/work with them.

My point is mainly that the two "offences" (if we are to class racism as an offence), are vastly different, and in entirely differently classes.

To rehabilitate someone who made a joke in bad taste should be far, far easier than to rehabilitate a murderer. The two just cannot be equivocated. One is a criminal act, the other is expressing an opinion, albeit a very bad one.

Obviously, they are different, and the length of sentences reflect that. A murderer is in prison for 10-20 years and a really bad racist joke makes you unemployable for a year or 2.

There's also a problem with the verb "to rehabilitate" because much of the rehabilitation comes from the subject themselves and can't be imposed by society. The murderer who serves time, shows remorse, and studies programming to reintegrate society is different from the racist who doesn't apologize sincerely or believably for the bad joke and complains that nobody will hire them.

Finally, look at the environment that the rehabilitated person gets put into. Someone who got into drugs and gangs as a teen, went to prison, and then turned their life around is not a threat in an office environment. A racist or sexist may still cause disruption in a diverse and gender-equal work environment. The ex-gang member can't go back to the 'hood, but the racist or sexist has made it much more difficult to work in any office--or with people so that's pretty much any job. Though like I said, if they apologize and repent, I think the racist should be given a second chance as well.

> Racism get tried in the court of public opinion, and then there is a sentence of being

Placed in high government office?

This talk is about Justine Sacco. Within 7-8 months of being fired, she got a new job and has continued to work her way up the corporate ladder ever since [0].

You're right. Your line of reasoning is nonsense.

0 - https://www.linkedin.com/in/justinesacco

Yes, a joke in bad taste is richly deserving of mass public humiliation, getting fired, and not having work for 8 months. I love our brave new world!

> On the other hand, people perceived as racist are permanently marked as being ideologically dangerous.

This is pretty demonstrably untrue. Cenk Uygur comes to mind, off the top of my head - he's lost out on opportunities from things he said in the past that were perceived as racist, but nobody in good faith / nobody who matters considers him to continue to espouse those views. It helps that he quite vocally criticizes those views.

What is probably actually true is that, statistically, many people who were racist in the past are still racist, and many people who murdered in the past and went to prison commit no further violent crimes (for many reasons).

> depending on the crime, obviously

Well, this is the big part that's missing from the story. 13 years seems like it was a big deal.

Is it even legal to ask someone who was in prison what their crime was during an interview?

The laws on this vary dramatically by state and sometimes even by city. For some they can't ask or run a background check until after an offer is made. For some jurisdictions they can't discriminate on that basis unless it's highly relevant to the job (i.e. convicted sex offender can't work with children). For some jurisdictions it's totally legal to run the background check upfront and to discriminate at will.

The tweet says that it was a "serious, violent crime", and that they got out early on parole, so the 13 years wasn't even the full sentence. With that amount of jail time, it looks like she murdered someone.


13 years served is pretty short for murder in most states. It's more likely aggravated assault, robbery, or less likely something like negligent homicide (e.g., killing someone in a car wreck while intoxicated). Assaults and robberies are far more common.

Definitely in the UK. You can ask for full criminal records.

You can ask.

But UK convictions become 'spent' after a certain amount of time (Depending on the length of the prison sentence served, with 4+ year sentences never becoming spent) after which they leave the person's basic criminal record, and there's no obligation to tell a prospective employer about them.

Only a few jobs (such as teaching) are allowed info on spent convictions.

The original article was a 13 year conviction, so would have shown up.

Criminal convictions in the UK at least can be considered spent, after that point it doesn't need to be declared.

What percentage of the population do you estimate is made up of these racists?

I don't know? I don't understand what you're getting at.

Many these days have got on a bandwagon of calling people out as racists if they don't fall in line with the Democrat party platform or support the censorship agenda of big tech. As that diminishes the real problem of racism would you be willing to commit to not hiring anyone contributing to that problem as well? (Obviously this is rhetorical)

If it's rhetorical why are you asking me? What do you want from this exchange?

I have no interest in discussing who is or isn't racist, I'm saying that an already defined as racist tweet would be something worth considering in a hiring process.

So, Thought Crime weighs heavier than statutory crimes? Who decides the guilt or innocence of the thoughts?

you're trying to be clever, but statutory crimes are often either ridiculous (drug offenses) or can be put behind you and forgiven (if they were a product of circumstances or culture at the time.)

whereas what you're calling "thought crime" is more analogous to saying "i intend to commit statutory crimes in the future".

A thought crime is analogous to saying "I think that imprisoning people for drugs is unfair".

The one hiring gets to decide who works there.

So you are saying it should be the employers choice whether to hire the racist or criminal?

You can tweet racist stuff and still be president of the United States. The law protects him from the emotions of the masses. This law does not extend over to your employment at a commercial company.

The reason why people lose their jobs for racist tweets is because companies are reacting to the emotional sentiment of the masses and pulling a PR maneuver.

In short, for commercial jobs, it doesn't matter your crime, or the degree of your crime or whether you committed a crime at all, it's about business and a negative public emotional mood against you at this current point in time is usually bad for business (or stock prices).

Case in point, Let's say hypothetically that the OP could have mentioned that this woman's violent crime was repeatedly beating a 8 year old child for no reason and the public's emotional reaction would be drastically different. I'm not sure what her crime really was, but there is definitely a reason why it was omitted: The OP likely made a rational judgement about the crime and is likely very aware that the emotional reaction to the crime by the masses would be drastically different than her own rational judgement... thus from this line of reasoning she has chosen not to mention what the crime was.

It's a fine line here. I think if I really got to know a person and I can really understand a person, I feel even a child beater or can be redeemed in my eyes but I can see how in the eyes of the public this can never happen. (Also let's be clear here, I'm not saying the womans crime was beating a child, just using that as an example).

People are rarely rational and when you measure the reactions of people in response to stimuli in aggregate you will find that the bigger the aggregate the more emotional the reaction is.

This is how a criminal who committed a violent crime can get public support for finding a job, and an innocent man who made a mistake and wrote a stupid tweet can lose any prospect at finding a future career.

I don't think anyone expects them to be overlooked. You look at the person and you see if they've changed for the better.

I would much rather hire someone who grew up poor and fell in with gangs and felt pressured to join in an armed robbery 10 years ago and understands that it's wrong than someone who had a demonstrated bias against some minority 10 years ago and still does today. This isn't about whether they're a "good person" or anything, this is a mercenary calculation based on business value. I don't expect the former gang member is going to engage in similar violent crimes if I employ them. I do expect the biased person is going to have trouble working productively with people in my company who are part of that minority or is going to negatively impact those folks' productivity.

I'm not in the business of determining the magnitude of your moral transgressions. That stays in the confessional. I'm in the business of hiring folks who will deliver business value.

I think there's a wide gulf between "said something that someone on the internet construed as racist" and "demonstrated bias against some minority"...

But past that, the general principle you advocate seems to be "try not to hire people who will not be able to work with others", right? It doesn't matter whether they're biased against minorities or non-minorities, as long as they're biased and will be acting irrationally in ways that piss off those around them.

You don't understand.

One is an accidental mishap due to the extreme cruelty and unfairness of our modern society.

The other one is a sincerely held unacceptable belief which endangers the progress of humanity.


I guess merely being convicted of a crime isn't that bad compared with being sentenced without trial in the court of public opinion.

pretty sure the people with criminal records have already been punished?

I believe what the person above was referring to is the dichotomy of the people cheering for prisoners getting jobs while cancelling people for a fairly innocuous tweet, however tasteless. While the prisoners may have paid for their crime, there isn't always as clear a path out of the purgatory that is becoming the social pariah of upsetting "the mob" in the Twitterverse (though, past a few professions, I'm unsure how much sway they hold).

I wouldn't say that's a dichotomy. Internet popularity was fleeting before twitter and it probably still will be long afterwards. In general, the path out of unpopularity is to do research before you post something. If you don't want to do it yourself, you can hire a PR firm.

Because two wrongs dont make a right, and expectations are a poor way to calibrate justice.

> People are losing their jobs because of offhand tweets ...

Well, not sitting-in-the-oval-office people, but anyway.

Smoke weed in Kansas - boom, criminal record. Walk across the Colorado border and smoke weed - no problem, it's completely legal. It's also completely legal to spend your free time carting your AR-15 and Nazi flag down to the village square and recruiting supporters for your "Turn America into a white ethnostate" movement. The point I'm making is that not all criminal behavior is even widely considered objectionable and plenty of legal behavior is.

Thus, why would you consider having a criminal record to be "a [big] blemish" that justifies employment discrimination, yet no personal views extreme enough to allow an employer to disassociate from their employee?

When you consider that the ratio of those affected by criminal record-based employment discrimination to those impacted by twitter-based discrimination is on the order of millions to one, it seems strange to be more concerned about the latter than the former.

I wonder what kind of community reaction there will be if Hans Reiser submits kernel patches after getting released/paroled.

I think as long as he did his time and behaves in the community, he'd be accepted. At least that's what I'd hope.

I, for one, would not mind him doing this while incarcerated, too. Who would be harmed if he would get a pc and internet access in prison?

I don't see why they wouldn't accept his patches even if he somehow manages to submit them from inside prison. You can't murder someone with a patch file.

Who's going to dare rejecting his labor of love?

Once upon a time, an employer of mine was happy to work with people who had criminal records. Provided they were honest and willing to discuss the matter.

It became a problem when we hired someone with a record of fraud... who had not disclosed it. And who would have had access to credit card info. He was promptly fired.

We were willing to work with him, and said as much. He wasn't willing to take the risk. So he took a bigger one, and lost.

> A criminal record in the US

It's worse than that. I've been denied an apartment for having an arrest on my record, even though I wasn't convicted.

I agree with you, but it is a really hard problem with huge, diverse, systemic drivers. The OP mentions how much work from how many people this takes - the entire process could fall apart at any of the steps, plus it required personal relationships and favors. There's also the measure of success; it's pretty relative. I've seen programs touted as huge successes when the recidivism rate is "only" 25%. This speaks about how hard it is to break the cycle, but also would your company be happy with 1/4 employees having a serious drug problem, or stealing or committing a violent crime, vs. (number pulled from thin air) 1/50?

We DO need more of this. It's going to take a lot of time and effort, and (sorry growth hackers) it won't scale.

What's also being implied with background checks, even when they say it's relevant like with checking if a pharmacist has drug charges, is that prison does not work. If it reformed people, it wouldn't matter what your history is, because you went through a reforming process and learned to manage the root cause of why you committed a crime, like poor mental health. Instead we just send people to prison for our own sense of "punishment".

I agree. I think if you went to prison, you served your debt to society and are square with the house. Your punishment should stop. This includes inability to find work etc... with some sensible limits for certain high-trust related positions.

I agree. We should definitely have more of this and trades training for people in lock up, so they can do something productive once they get out.

Instead of hitting the weights every day, they can engage in productive learning. We all benefit.

Except for the privatized prisons who don't actually want to rehabilitate their inmates so that they're more likely to recidivate and end up back in prison. The prison system has to be completely overhauled and freed from capitalism at the expense of human life.

Private prisons make up 8.4% of the total prison population. [0]

Interestingly, that's less than half what it is in Australia and UK.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_prison#:~:text=Statist....

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