Kennard Ray doesn't have to worry about including Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra on his Christmas list. Ray already gave his gift — an abrupt resignation after recently being named deputy chief of staff.
Kennard has a criminal record and was convicted on multiple drug and gun charges, including the sale of illegal drugs, more than a decade ago. The bad acts were uncovered at the same time he was announced as Segarra's deputy. By numerous accounts, the affable and eloquent Kennard is different man today at 32 than the wayward young guy in his teens and early 20s.
Segarra said he didn't know about Ray's record when he appointed him to the position.
The mayor, however, has been a big supporter of Hartford's so called "no box" law. Passed in 2010, the measure allows city hall applicants to not to disclose — or check a box on the job application form — whether they've ever been convicted. A background check is conducted only after the applicant has been selected.
The "no box" provision is well-intended but it's also hypocritical. What it essentially does is defer any bias toward ex-offenders until after they have been selected for a job.
Had Ray decided not to resign, it would've forced Segarra to take another stance about how committed he was to giving ex-offenders a second chance. If he'd publicly stuck by Ray, then Segarra's critics would say he was setting a poor example by hiring an ex-felon with no college degree to a mid-level administrative position. If Segarra dismissed Ray, it would have undermined his position about the importance of redemption. Ray has been working as a community organizer and lobbyist the last few years. He's bright, polite, contrite and an excellent example of an ex-offender who has reconfigured his life.
Still, having a former drug dealer under consideration for deputy chief of staff is information that should have been disclosed. It doesn't mean Ray should've been automatically disqualified, but it would have triggered more critical conversations as to whether he was indeed the best fit for this publicly funded liaison position.
In resigning, Ray graciously gave Segarra the easy way out. But when it comes to granting ex-offenders a second chance, there are no easy decisions. I believe in second chances, particularly for nonviolent ex-cons. Redemption is one of the enduring values of America. Plus, if we don't give them a shot, most end up engaged in the same activities that got them sent up previously.
Granting second chances for ex-offenders, however, can't be done unconditionally or unilaterally. There is no litmus test to determine who has actually been rehabilitated and who has simply served time. Big difference.
The state Supreme Court is deciding whether to grant convicted former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim his law license, 10 years after his racketeering conviction and three years after his release. The court is asking legitimate questions about returning a law license to a man who has never fessed up or apologized for his crimes. Ganim, remember, later had his prison sentenced reduced because he voluntarily entered a drug treatment program — even though neither he nor his prosecutors ever suggested he had a drug problem. The guy was still about getting over, even while serving penance.
As a highly educated white-collar (and white) criminal, inmate Ganim was the exception. In Connecticut, 75 percent of the prison population is African American and Latino — and 75 percent of the population does not have a high school diploma.
I've advocated for turning our prisons into learning institutions. Establish a system in which nonviolent offenders can reduce their time in prison by increasing their education levels. If there were sentence-reduction incentives for getting a GED, or associate's degree, or a certified trade while imprisoned, we'd see inmates returning to society better educated and job-ready. We'd also likely see a society more receptive to granting that second chance. Kennard Ray's resume indicates he attended one year of college from 2009 to 2010 at New York University. His major is listed as marketing and creative writing.
Ray ought to complete that college degree. It would better position him for the next good job opportunity — and more adeptly counter any backlash about his checkered past.
Consider it a gift to himself.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show" (www.foxct.com/stan and Saturdays, 5:30 a.m., on FOX CT).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun