Major new federal awards support second chance advocacy

Earlier this week the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor made two major awards to the Council of State Governments (CSG) to support the development of resources on collateral consequences and second chance programs.  The awards aim to build capacity within the advocacy community to assist those seeking restoration of rights and status nationwide.

The first award is a $4.6 million contract awarded by the Labor Department for the development of the National Clean Slate Clearinghouse, a federal initiative first announced by President Obama last November.  The Clearinghouse is intended to “build capacity for legal services needed to help with record-cleaning, expungement, and related civil legal services.”

The second award is a $5 million grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to support the ongoing work of the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), a project developed by CSG in 2011 with federal funding earmarked in the Second Chance Act of 2007.  One exciting aspect of that award is that it will bring the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC) into the NRRC fold.

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Will Prez Obama make federal contractors ban the box? [Update: Not now.]

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Updated April 29:

According to comments late this week from senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, the President remains inclined to defer to Congress when it comes to making federal contractors ban the box:

Asked whether there was consideration of whether to take action to require federal contractors to “ban the box,” Jarrett said, “The president has supported federal legislation that would ban the box for federal contractors. He thinks that’s the best approach.”

The legislation in question appears to have stalled, as noted by its sponsor Rep. Elijah Cummings.  (In a tweet, Jarrett pointed advocates to a 2013 directive of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance reminding contractors of their obligation to comply with the EEOC guidance on criminal records.)

On the other hand, on Friday the administration made good on its November promise to require federal agencies to ban the box, when OPM announced a proposed rule requiring federal agencies to postpone inquiry into an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.

Also, marking the end of National Reentry Week, the President formally established the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a Cabinet-level working group dedicated to “the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals returning to their communities from prisons and jails.”  Originally convened by the Attorney General in 2011, the President’s action ensures that the Council will continue past the end of his Administration.

Original post from April 26:

As the White House inaugural National Reentry Week begins, advocacy organizations and Members of Congress are again calling on President Obama to use his executive authority to “ban the box” in federal contractor hiring, just as he announced he would do in federal agency hiring last November.

The call comes on the heels of a number of steps the Obama Administration has taken to improve the employment prospects of those with criminal histories, including the creation of the Fair Chance Business Pledge earlier this month.  Last fall, the President announced a number of additional reentry initiatives, including establishment of a Clean Slate Clearinghouse.  The President’s overall record on second-chance issues has been commendable, but he will have to move quickly to maximize his administration’s impact before the end of his term.

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Bids Sought for National Clean Slate Clearinghouse

Last November President Obama announced plans to create a National Clean Slate Clearinghouse, a joint project between the Departments of Labor and Justice that would “build capacity for legal services needed to help with record-cleaning, expungement, and related civil legal services.”  In late February the Labor Department announced plans for a large-scale contract to establish the Clearinghouse, and sought information from likely bidders.  Since then, we have been curious about what the scope of the Clearinghouse project would be. Now we know.

This past Monday the Department of Labor issued an official solicitation for bids to develop the Clearinghouse, with the following general overview of the project:

The Clearinghouse will: 1) gather content, launch, host and update a national website that provides, among other things, state-by-state information on sealing, expungement, and other related legal services that lessen the negative impact of having juvenile and criminal records; and 2) develop tools and provide technical assistance to reentry service providers and legal aid organizations on how to use and expand access to sealing, expungement, and other legal services. The Clearinghouse will disseminate information in the area of record sealing and expungement, pardons, certificates of rehabilitation, correcting inaccurate juvenile and criminal records and other strategies to diminish the often lifelong economic and social consequences associated with having a juvenile or criminal record. In addition, the Clearinghouse will provide guidance on the removal of other employment barriers that do not provide a public safety benefit.

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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

President urged to make federal hiring fairer — but is the “ask” enough to get the right result?

A coalition of national advocacy organizations has again urged President Obama to implement a robust federal hiring policy to give people with a criminal record a fair chance to compete for federal agency and contractor jobs.[1]  In an open letter dated July 20, the coalition called upon the President to issue an executive order requiring employers to conduct a criminal records check only after a conditional hiring offer has been made, and to adhere to current EEOC guidance on considering the results of a records check.

The administration’s recent rhetoric indicates that it may be receptive to the coalition’s proposed reforms. On July 14, the President explicitly endorsed so-called “ban-the-box” policies in his speech on criminal justice reform at the NAACP annual convention:

Let’s follow the growing number of our states, and cities, and private companies who’ve decided to ban the box on job applications so that former prisoners who have done their time and are now trying to get straight with society have a decent shot in a job interview.

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Glenn Martin’s “prison-like” White House experience

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The Crime Report published this report about Glenn Martin’s recent experience as an invited guest at the White House, described in Glenn’s open letter to the President, giving further details of the treatment he received and describing the Administration’s response.

Glenn Martin’s “prison-like” White House experience

July 2, 2015 09:01:56 am

Two weeks after criminal justice advocate Glenn Martin was nearly denied access to a White House event he was invited to, he’s still waiting for an explanation.

In a widely distributed “open letter” to President Barack Obama last week, Martin revealed that he was required to have a special escort in order to enter the White House complex for a discussion with senior officials on breaking down barriers facing ex-prisoners.

Martin, who is one of the country’s leading advocates for ending those barriers, is an ex-inmate himself. Now head of JustLeadershipUSA, he served time for a robbery conviction 20 years ago—and has since achieved national prominence for his work with former prisoners.

Although he was invited to the meeting, along with a select group of advocates, scholars, elected officials and law enforcement authorities, he was treated as a security risk.

“The staggering symbolism of the ordeal was not lost on me, Mr. President,” Martin wrote in the June 25 letter to Obama and Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy.

“In a country where 65 million people have a criminal record on file, being selectively barred from entering the White House for a discussion about those very same people was as insulting as it was indicative of the broader problem.”

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Lawsuit challenges Pennsylvania bar to nursing home employment

An effective NPR piece tells the story of Tyrone Peake, a Pennsylvania man whose 1981 conviction for attempted theft barred him from employment as a caregiver in a nursing home, despite training and certification that qualified him for the job.  The state law making people with a felony record absolutely ineligible for employment in any health care facility in the state was was held unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court 15 years ago on equal protection grounds.  However, it remains on the books and enforced despite repeated rulings by lower courts invalidating it in particular cases.  Now another lawsuit has been filed, with Mr. Peake as one of the plaintiffs, that seeks to put an end to this broad and unfair collateral sanction once and for all.  The lawsuit is described in the following article from the website of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, one of the law’s challengers.   Read more

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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Federal fair chance hiring proposal advances

The following note was received today from the National Employment Law Project:

We wanted to report back on the exciting progress in support of the federal fair chance hiring initiative, which builds on the momentum from the sign-on letter to the President that your organizations endorsed.

On March 25th, representatives from NELP, All of Us or None, PICO National Network and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice met with White House and Labor Department officials to present the letter signed by nearly 200 organizations and urge immediate federal action.  The news about the sign-on letter and the White House meeting was covered in an excellent exclusive that appeared in Politico (check it out) the day of the meeting.  The sign-on letter was also featured in an op-ed by a Florida small business owner (and a member of our partners at the Main Street Alliance) in The Guardian, in an NNPA syndicated story picked up by several news outlets, as well as in a National Law Review story.

In addition, thanks to the active engagement of your organizations, the social media around the initiative is also picking up steam. The Facebook image (attached) produced over 60,000 views, and it was shared by nearly 1,000 people.  During the one-hour “tweet storm” on the 25th, there were 250 unique tweets using the #FairChance or #BanTheBox hashtags (a special shout out goes to Danny Glover, whose tweet led the way with most retweets).  In just a few short months, we’re building a serious social media following thanks again to all of you.

Based on the feedback we received at the meetings on the 25th, all the support from your organizations, the press and the social media is getting the Administration’s attention – they have made clear that they are taking a serious look at the proposal to issue an Executive Order and Presidential Memo to extend fair chance hiring/ban the box to federal contractors and the federal hiring process.   Now, it’s all about  continuing to build the grassroots and public pressure to move the Administration to act.  Your continued active involvement is critical to the success of the effort.

On another positive note, we wanted to also share the news that Virginia Governor McAuliffe issued a strong executive order today extending fair chance hiring to all state positions (and urging the private sector to do the same).  McAuliffe’s action got the attention of Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s Senior Advisor, who tweeted out her support using the #BantheBox hashtag.  Please take minute to retweet it as well.

Thanks again everyone for all your amazing support! We’ll be in touch soon with more details and next steps.

Best,
Maurice

Maurice Emsellem, Director
Access and Opportunity Program
National Employment Law Project
(510) 663-5700

New York Times weighs in on college applications and criminal records

BoxedOut.untitledThe New York Times has published an editorial about the recently issued report of the Center for Community Alternatives on the deterrent effect of questions about criminal records on applications for admission to the State University of New York.  (See the piece about the report “Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Attrition” by CCA Director Alan Rosenthal published in this space 10 days ago.)  The editorial notes that the 24 campuses of the CUNY system do not include “the box” asking about criminal record on their application forms and have reported no safety issues as a result.  Perhaps this will be one of those rare cases where effective public advocacy highlighted in editorial pages will actually have a concrete result.

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