The Daily Illini

Some think the label of “felon” stigmatizes ex-criminals

By Christin Watkins

Rebecca Ginsburg, director of the Education Justice Project, supports informing people of the negative effects of stigmatizing ex-criminals, although she is unsure of the effect this legislation could have.

The project — conducted by a variety of people at the University, including students, faculty and staff — provides higher education inside a medium-high security Illinois state prison, according to the program’s website.SO

“The idea itself is wonderful. I don’t think that changing the language is going to solve the problem,” Ginsburg said. “But it’s definitely a start.”

Labeling ex-criminals as felons stigmatizes them and prevents them from being able to get housing or employment, she said.

Labels distance those who have been incarcerated from the rest of society, making them appear to be lesser human beings, said James Kilgore, University adjunct lecturer.

“The language that we use to describe people is pretty important in shaping our ideas about them,” he said.

These labels only increase public stigmatization of criminals, said Anatta Okonkwo, president of the Prison Justice Project registered student organization.

“Labeling someone as a ‘felon’ defines the person by what they have done in the past and leaves no room for societal redemption,” she said. “The fact that they have paid their debt to society becomes irrelevant in the public’s mind, the employer’s mind, in the associate’s mind.”

Ginsburg said supports the Ban the Box movement, which makes it illegal for employers to request criminal background information on job applications, or during early stages of application review. This is currently illegal in Illinois. SO

“A lot of people who have been convicted of a felony, if they see that box on an application, some of them will decide not even to apply to the job,” Ginsburg said. “So many studies have shown that if you check the box, you are never going to get a call back.”

Despite the ban of “the box” in Illinois, there are still employers who question potential employees about their criminal background, although this should not be a concern in the initial hiring process, Kilgore said.

“Universally, people are aware that this is a big obstacle to them getting employment,” he said.

[email protected]

Clarification: A previous version of this article failed to mention that Ryan was convicted of a felony in 2006 and served time in prison as a result. 

Leave a Comment