Wisconsin attorneys volunteer to help students facing expulsion

raceclassExpulsion or suspension from school, not surprisingly, does not bode well for academic success.  Students are much less likely to graduate when they miss significant time in school or have to change schools because they have been suspended or expelled.

Incidents at school can have other serious and lasting consequences.  In Wisconsin, because 17-year-olds are considered adults when charged with criminal violations, high school students can face probation, jail, or prison, as well as all the adverse collateral consequences associated with a criminal record.  One serious consequence unique to students is that alleged misconduct in school can also result in a suspension or expulsion from school.

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Federal agencies urged to adopt fair hiring policies

PresSealThe National Employment Law Project (NELP) has published a white paper urging the federal government to increase its own employment of people with a criminal record.  In “Advancing a Federal Fair Chance Hiring Agenda,” Maurice Emsellem and Michelle Natividad Rodriguez make a strong case for a federal “fair chance” hiring initiative similar to the ones put in place by state and municipal governments across the country.  Specifically, background check policies and suitability standards should be reformed by presidential order to give people with criminal records an opportunity to compete for jobs with federal agencies and federal contractors from which they are now, as a practical matter, excluded.

The NELP paper points out that the federal workforce is far more decentralized than a standard civil service structure, with fewer mandated protections regulating the hiring process.  Notwithstanding OPM guidelines, federal agencies have broad discretion to adopt their own hiring policies and practices, often with limited accountability and transparency. Indeed, the EEOC has been critical of the fact that federal agencies are not bound by the same suitability standards that apply to most other public and private employers.  Moreover, federal contractor employees (an astonishing 22 percent of the U.S. workforce) enjoy few legal protections, and applicants may be rejected (or employees dismissed) on the basis of stringent FBI background check requirements that apply, inter alia, to anyone with routine access to federal facilities.  These shortcomings could be addressed with the stroke of a presidential pen (or two strokes to be precise).

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Ohio certificates remove mandatory bars to jobs and licenses

February 2, 2013 was an historic day in Ohio. The Ohio legislature added a new judicialcloseup_groundhog restoration mechanism: the Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE). The CQE, contained in Ohio Rev. Code §2953.25, provides new hope to the 1 in 6 Ohioans who have a criminal conviction and as a result are ineligible for certain jobs and licenses because of a mandatory collateral sanction (of which there are many in Ohio law).  To date 242 Ohioans have received a CQE, and more are expected to apply when word gets around that this relief is available.

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Expungement resources now online from Papillon Foundation

143_PapillonLogo_Black.aiMost people with a criminal record have a general understanding of the value of expunging or sealing their criminal records.  However, figuring out how to actually obtain such relief in a particular jurisdiction, and understanding its specific effects, is not so easy.  The Papillon Foundation aims to change that by offering practical internet-based information about the process for obtaining expungement and sealing in all 50 states. We spoke with the Foundation’s founder Alan Courtney not long ago to find out more about how the Foundation helps people clean up their record and take charge of their past.    Read more

“One Strike and You’re Out:” Center for American Progress reports on criminal records policy

CAPREPORTEarlier this week, the Center for American Progress published a new report on the effect of the proliferation of criminal records in a nation of mass incarceration and criminalization. The report (“One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records”) explores the debilitating effect that a criminal record – including records for relatively minor offenses and for arrests that did not result in a conviction – can have on an individual’s access to housing, public assistance, education, family stability, and, in turn, their prospects for economic stability. The report’s authors are Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty and Prosperity Program, and Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (and of our own CCRC Board).

The report makes the point that the proliferation of criminal records, and the ease with which they can be accessed, harms not only individuals but society as a whole. The collateral consequences of a criminal record result in employment losses of $65 billion a year in GDP according to one study cited. Another study estimates that the national poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the accompanying criminal record crisis. The report notes that the war on drugs and the “criminalization of poverty” has resulted in a disproportionately high incidence of justice system contact in communities of color. Criminal records are thus both a cause of poverty and a consequence of poverty.

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The New Southern Strategy Coalition works on criminal records reform in the South

“I don’t know why everyone is talking about the New Jim Crow; in the South the old one never went away.” – 2013 New Southern Strategy Coalition conference participant

Introduction

The New Southern Strategy Coalition is a collaborative network of Southern advocacy groups and their national allies, originally convened in 2011 and dedicated to reducing the negative consequences of a criminal record in the South.  Because the South has always been seen as a region resistant to criminal justice reform, many national groups do not have a presence there, and state-based advocacy efforts are generally underfunded and understaffed. The voices of those most affected are missing from southern state capitols, and the region is often left out of the national dialogue altogether.

NSSC addresses these challenges by providing opportunities for southern organizations to network and share information about regional best practices to minimize legal barriers to reentry. The premise is that state-specific reform efforts in the South will be supported and magnified by the Coalition’s collective goals operating across a unified landscape.  NSSC holds regional conferences to discuss effective reform strategies, provides training and materials, ensures that the voices of directly affected individuals are included in a meaningful way, and uses web-based and social media tools to leverage reform efforts.

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California’s Proposition 47 and collateral consequences: Part II (reentry and restoration of rights)

Prop 47 and restoration of rights 

California’s recently enacted Proposition 47 fundamentally alters the landscape for a handful of lower-level felony offenses in California. As discussed by Jeffery Aaron in a previous post, Prop 47 reclassifies eight offenses as misdemeanors, including simple drug possession offenses and theft of less than $950. Anyone with a qualifying conviction, who also does not have a disqualifying prior, can now petition under Prop 47 to have a felony reclassifiedimages as a misdemeanor. The most significant and immediate relief will be for people who are incarcerated for qualifying low-level felonies and who are now eligible for resentencing and release. Public defender offices around the state are busy filing those petitions.

But, Prop 47 also allows two other populations to petition for reclassification of their qualifying felonies to misdemeanors: People who are under supervision but not incarcerated (on probation, parole, or post-release community supervision), and people whose sentences were completed long ago. This aspect of the new law presents good opportunities for tens of thousands of Californians, and not insignificant implementation challenges.

Simply by reclassifying certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Prop 47 can undo some of the most serious collateral consequences.  It’s clear from our experience providing reentry legal services to thousands of clients over the years that people with felony, as opposed to misdemeanor, convictions face increased barriers to employment, housing, and full and meaningful community reintegration and citizenship. For example, people with a felony conviction, even a decades-old low-level offense, can never serve on a jury in California. For many people, Prop 47 will reverse this lifetime disenfranchisement and move them one step closer to full civic engagement.

But unfortunately, many of the statuary and extra-legal barriers to successful reentry that block people convicted of felonies also apply to people with convictions for misdemeanors and criminal infractions. Consequently, Prop 47 relief alone is not a cure-all for collateral consequences, and for most people it’s not even the most important petition they can file to overcome the statutory disabilities they face.  The following section describes how Prop 47 relief interacts with other California relief mechanisms. Read more

Special interests succeed in watering down NJ Opportunity to Compete Act

In updating our book on New Jersey Collateral Consequences, J.C. Lore and I analyzed the provisions of New Jerseys’ new Opportunity to Compete Act, signed by Governor Christie in August and scheduled to become effective on March 15, 2015.   The Act applies a ban-the-box requirement to most public and private employers with more than 15 employees.  Having followed the bill through its passage in the House last spring, we were disappointed but not surprised to see that there were a number of employer-friendly amendments added to the Act just prior to final action in the Senate, with the result that there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the law actually accomplishes.  The important provisions omitted from the bill in the Senate, after lobbying by business and industry groups, includedstock-photo-usa-american-new-jersey-state-map-outline-with-grunge-effect-flag-insert-101188936

  • A prohibition on considering certain types of criminal histories, including conviction records after a certain number of years;
  • A private right of action against employers;
  • A definition of “initial employment application process” that permits inspection of criminal records at an earlier stage of the employment process;
  • A requirement that an employer make a good faith effort to discuss the applicants criminal record if it is of concern; and
  • A provision permitting negligent hiring suits in cases of “gross negligence.”

The bill as amended also preempted local ban-the-box laws, so that Newark’s more progressive ban-the-box ordinance appears to be on life support.

Attached are the enacted version of the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, as well as the “advance law” with brackets to show which language was removed in the Senate.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Much chastened, the author of the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource has made appropriate modifications in the New Jersey profile.  Note that similar last-minute amendments also substantially weakened the Delaware ban-the-box law, omitting similar provisions that would have prohibited employers from considering certain types of criminal records, notably convictions more than 10 years old.  In the same fashion, last-minute amendments to Vermont’s Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act restricted its coverage to less serious offenses, disappointing its sponsors.

The lesson for advocates is that they must be eternally vigilant for last-minute lobbying by special interests to dilute provisions of progressive legislation intended to give people with a criminal record a fairer chance in the workplace. – ML

Ohio’s on-line inventory of collateral consequences – a useful tool for defense lawyers

Kelley Williams-Bolar was a single mother in Akron Ohio, a teacher’s aide who was studying to become a teacher herself.  Her story made headlines in 2011, when she was accused of misusing her father’s home address to enroll her two young daughters in a public school they were not entitled to attend.  After her own home was burglarized, Kelley had enrolled the girls in their grandfather’s school district, so they could spend each afternoon after school safely at their grandfather’s house.  To make this possible she had signed a “grandparent affidavit” saying that the girls lived with their grandfather.  The new school district ultimately rejected the affidavit, and she withdrew the girls from tohio_sealheir new school at the end of the school year.

Ohio’s “grandparent affidavit” form contains a printed warning, advising that anyone who submits a false affidavit can be charged with “Falsification, a first degree misdemeanor.”  But that warning gave no hint of what would actually happen to Kelley.  Eighteen months after her daughters left the new school, the district attorney charged Kelley with felony Grand Theft, claiming she had “stolen” tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tuition for her children.

Particularly given Kelley’s career aspiration to be a teacher, her defense lawyer could have made good use of a new online resource called CIVICC (Civil Impacts of Criminal Convictions), a computerized compendium of state collateral consequences linked to the crimes that trigger them.  (Kelley’s felony conviction was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor by Governor John Kasich, high level intervention that cannot be counted on to substitute for effective advocacy.)

At the CIVICC website, counsel in a case like Kelley’s could run a quick search using the keyword “theft,” and learn right away that conviction on the Grand Theft charge would expose her to 509 possible collateral consequences (“civil impacts”) under Ohio law, burdens she would bear long after her criminal sentence was complete.

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Washington Lawyers Committee releases report on collateral consequences in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

On October 22 the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released DC.IMG_0171 (2)a report focusing on the problem of collateral consequences in the DC tri-jurisdiction region.

The report, a follow-up to an earlier WLC report on racial disparity in arrests in the District of Columbia, documents the disproportionate impact of collateral consequences on minorities, which makes them “very clearly a civil rights problem.”  For example, “although African-Americans make up less than 48% of the city’s population, over 92% of those sentenced by the DC Superior Court in 2012 were African-Americans, whose overall rate of incarceration in DC is some 19 times the rate of whites.”  It reports that nearly half of those in DC who have been incarcerated may be jobless with little prospect of finding consistent work, and that “this inability to find work is a major contributing cause of recidivism.” It illustrates the problem of collateral consequences with case studies of five area residents adversely affected by their records in finding employment and housing.

Among the report’s recommendations are that all three jurisdictions should limit the discretion of licensing boards to deny licenses based on criminal records, enact or strengthen ban-the-box laws limiting employers’ use of criminal records, and limit access by most employers to official arrest and conviction records. Respecting the effect of D.C.’s recently enacted ban-the-box law, it reports that D.C.’s Office of Human Resources found that “76% of post-law applicants for municipal jobs who had a criminal record were in fact suitable for government employment, but would likely have been disqualified from consideration for employment if the D.C. law were not in place.”  In addition, all three area jurisdictions “should review and improve their existing mechanisms for seeking individualized relief from collateral consequences, through methods like expungement or sealing of records and restoration of rights.”

The WLC press release is here.  The report is here.

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