Author Archives: Joshua Gaines

Joshua Gaines

Josh is a North Carolina-based attorney and the CCRC's Deputy Director. After graduating from American University in 2012, he worked on the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC), and various other projects dealing with collateral consequences, rights restoration, and reentry.

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Kentucky expungement offers fresh start to thousands

 

State Seal ColorOn Wednesday Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a bill giving state courts authority for the first time to expunge felony convictions.  The new law, HB 40, allows people convicted of specified non-violent class D felonies who have been crime-free for 5 years to petition to have their conviction vacated, charges dismissed, and record expunged.  Expunged records are deleted from official databases (including law enforcement), will not show up in background checks, and need not be acknowledged.  The court and other agencies “shall reply to any inquiry that no record exists on the matter.”

Democrats in the Kentucky House had worked for years to pass similar legislation, but were unsuccessful until one man’s moving testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee galvanized bipartisan support for the bill.  According to the AP,

At least 62,000 convicted felons in Kentucky will have the opportunity to wipe their records clean in part because a 45-year-old man convicted of stealing car radios 27 years ago convinced a powerful Republican lawmaker to change his mind.

West Powell, who has not had a run-in with law enforcement in 27 years, told the Committee:

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HUD limits housing exclusion based on criminal history

hudseal_teal_1On Monday the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that housing policies that exclude people with criminal histories may be illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) if the policy fails to consider the nature, severity, and recency of the criminal conduct and is not narrowly tailored to protect residents and property. The new HUD guidance, which applies to private landlords and realtors as well as to public housing authorities (PHAs), stresses that exclusions based solely on arrest records violate the FHA, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and other protected classes.[1]

The new guidance should end landlord reliance on electronic background checks to automatically exclude potential renters or purchasers, and greatly expand housing opportunities available to people with criminal histories, whether or not they are members of classes specifically protected by the FHA.  As the New York Times reported on Monday:

Lawyers who represent former prisoners said they expected HUD’s stance to lead landlords to revise their screening policies to avoid litigation. The guidance … could also lead to more and stronger lawsuits against those who continue to deny housing based on criminal history.

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New federal screening requirements for child care workers

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Child care workers in every state are subject to rigorous criminal background checks that may result in mandatory bars to employment. Until now, each state has been generally free to define its own standards regarding screening for criminal history. That is about to change.

By September of next year, states receiving funds under the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 (which appropriates over $ 2.5 billion each year to fund state child care and child welfare programs) must adopt minimum federally-defined screening standards for child care workers or risk loss of funding. The revised statutory standards subject current and prospective child care workers to a multi-level criminal background check and disqualify from employment anyone convicted of crimes against children, specified violent crimes, and drug crimes within the past 5 years.  States may opt to waive the disqualification for drug crimes on a case-by-case basis, but they are also free to adopt conviction-based disqualifications that are more restrictive than the law requires.

If the new CCDBG standards were not bad enough, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued proposed rules that would make them worse.  On Monday, the CCRC joined a coalition of organizations led by the National Employment Law Project in calling on HHS to rethink proposed rules that would implement the new screening requirements. A formal comment filed by the coalition details the ways in which the proposed rules fail to adequately address the disparate impact that the requirements could have on women, African Americans, and Latinos, and takes issue with requirements in the rules that are more exclusionary than the Act requires. Read more

How a parent’s criminal record limits children

reportcover“The barriers associated with having a criminal record do not just result in lifelong punishment for the parent with the record; they also can significantly limit a child’s life chances.” This is according to a new report by the Center for American Progress that examines the multi-generational effects of collateral consequences and the cycle of poverty and lost opportunity that those consequences perpetuate.

A parent’s criminal record can affect everything from a child’s emotional and physical well-being to future economic and educational outcomes.  This is true even if the record was for a minor conviction that did not result in incarceration or, in some cases, an arrest that did not result in conviction at all.

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White House criticizes occupational licensing restrictions

Occupational licensing requirements pose more of a barrier to employment than ever before, and perhaps no group of the population has been more affected by these barriers than people with criminal histories.  About 25% of the country’s workforce is now employed in a field that requires a state occupational license, and many of these licenses take criminal history into account for eligibility or retention purposes.  As a result, a record number of people with criminal records — many of whom have devoted their lives to a particular occupation or profession — are finding it difficult or impossible to earn a living in their chosen field.

Now the White House is weighing in on the issue, saying that “Policymakers should refrain from categorically excluding individuals with criminal records, and instead should only exclude those individuals whose convictions are recent and relevant, and pose a legitimate threat to public safety.” The White House’s urging appears in a new report aimed at curtailing the “inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary” burdens that current occupational licensing systems can place on workers, employers, and consumers.” Read more

Monster and other job sites sued for excluding people with convictions

naacp_logo_rgb-copyA New York City chapter of the NAACP filed a class action suit last month against a number of employers and prominent online job sites, claiming that job listings explicitly barring applicants with felony convictions violate city and state law. Industry giants Monster, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter are among the defendants. Accompanying the complaint are listings from those sites that seek IT engineers and administrators, exterminators, and couriers, all of which make it clear that those with felony convictions (and in one case even arrests) need not apply.

The suit was brought under the New York City Human Rights Law, which provides a means of enforcing employment discrimination prohibitions in Article 23-A of New York State law. Article 23-A forbids employers from rejecting applicants because of their criminal convictions without first affording them an individualized assessment (unless employment is barred by law).

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Dissecting the REDEEM Act

The REDEEM Act, introduced in the US Senate in March by Senators Corey Booker (D–NJ) and Rand Paul (R–KY), seeks to expand employment opportunities for those with federal criminal records by giving federal courts sealing authority. Because courts have generally held they do not have inherent authority to seal records — at least where an arrest or conviction is valid — the Act would open an entirely new avenue of relief from many of the collateral consequences that result from a federal arrest or conviction. While in the past similar bills have not made it out of committee, the attention that criminal justice reform is currently receiving on the national political stage and the REDEEM Act’s bipartisan support could give the Act a fighting chance.

The Act, as introduced, is not without its flaws. Chief among them are its vague definition of what crimes are eligible for relief, the broad discretion courts would have to deny relief for eligible offenses, the significant exceptions to the confidentiality of sealed records, and the uncertain effect of sealing on collateral consequences. The good news is that the Act’s defects are not structural and can be easily remedied through the legislative process.

This post contains a nuts and bolts overview of the Act. In subsequent posts, we will take a closer look at ways the Act could be improved.  Since the procedures and eligibility criteria applicable to adult and juvenile offenses differ in significant ways, we look at each in turn. Read more

New Maryland law allows “shielding” of some misdemeanor convictions

state-of-maryland-jpeg-00f3c_c0-321-3687-2470_s561x327Earlier this month, Maryland governor Larry Hogan signed the Second Chance Act of 2015, 2015 Md. Laws 313 (HB 244), which allows eligible persons to petition a court for “shielding” (or sealing) certain misdemeanor records.  This is the first time Maryland has authorized limits on public access to conviction records other than nuisance offenses and offenses that have been pardoned.

The new law, which goes into effect on October 1, is a significant step forward in the treatment of conviction records in the state.  However, its effect may not be as sweeping as many would like. Only a handful of misdemeanor offenses are eligible for relief, and records that have been generally shielded from public access remain available to a significant number of employers and licensing entities. We take a more detailed look at the new law below.

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Taking a bite out of Apple’s restrictive hiring policies

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Apple, maker of the iPhone and iPad, came under fire earlier this month when the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the company was prohibiting those convicted of a felony in the last 7 years from working on the construction of an enormous new corporate campus in Cupertino, California.  Under pressure from the iron workers union and advocates for fair hiring policies, the company quickly reversed course:

We recognize that this may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance. We have now removed that restriction and instructed our contractors on the project to evaluate all applicants equally, on a case-by-case basis, as we would for any role at Apple.

But many believe that Apple can do more to end employment discrimination against those with criminal records and can set an example for the tech industry and the country in the process.

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SBA to relax some rules on loans to people with a record, but most left in place

600px-US-SmallBusinessAdmin-Seal.svgIn December 2014, Amy Solomon, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the Justice Department, testified before the U.S. Senate Addiction Forum about the review of collateral consequences federal agencies had been conducting under the auspices of the Federal Reentry Council.  She reported that most of the agencies participating in the review had concluded their collateral consequences were “appropriately tailored for their purposes.”  However, she also reported that Small Business Administration (SBA) had proposed amendments to its regulations to allow people on probation or parole to qualify for loans from its microloan program.  (The change, proposed almost a year ago, has still not become final.)

We decided to take a look at the SBA’s proposed rule change, and at the SBA regulatory scheme more generally, to see how having a criminal record affects small business eligibility for government-backed loans. Read more

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