Collateral consequences inventory may move to NRRC

nicccThe National Inventory of Collateral Consequences (NICCC), a comprehensive interactive catalog of collateral consequences and relief mechanisms, will soon become a part of the federally funded National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC).  The NICCC, described by the Justice Department as an integral part of its Smart on Crime initiative, was developed by the American Bar Association between 2011 and 2014 under a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).  The NRRC, also closely tied to the Administration’s reentry strategy, was established in 2011 by the Council of State Governments and has been supported by grants from a number of federal agencies, including NIJ, and by private foundations.  Now the government has decided to consolidate the two projects under the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

According to a grant solicitation issued by the BJA earlier this month, bidders for a $5 million grant to administer the NRRC grant must “propose a plan to transfer” the NICCC and keep it up to date at an approximate annual cost of $100,000.  The solicitation does not make clear what if any conditions apply to the transfer of the NICCC, or what if any continuing role the ABA would have for its maintenance, and we must assume the government has determined that it should be permanently transferred to whatever organization wins the bid for the NRRC.  Bids are due by June 2. Read more

Challenge to SORNA retroactivity reaches Pennsylvania Supreme Court

In the last few years, Pennsylvania’s courts have taken an active role in defining the propriety and scope of the state’s sex offender registration program.  Following on the heels of a December 2014 decision striking down sex offender registration for juveniles, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a sweeping challenge to the retroactive application of Pennsylvania’s adult sex offender registry. The new law, generally referred to as SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act), took effect on December 20, 2012 as part of an effort to comply with the federal laws governing sex offenders.  SORNA replaced a more lenient registration scheme where the majority of people convicted of sexual crimes had to register for only ten years.  SORNA changed the paradigm and drastically increased the number of people included on the registry, the time periods for which they would have to register, and the number of things they have to report.  Of the close to 19,500 people on the registry today, roughly three quarters have to register for the rest of their lives without any chance of removal.

In addition to making most offenders lifetime registrants, SORNA reclassified thousands of people who were ten year registrants under the old law and retroactively increased their terms of registration – in most instances to life.  Hundreds of registrants sued, raising a number of different challenges to the law.  Until now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has refused to get involved.

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Feds nudge colleges to go “beyond the box”

1024px-US-DeptOfEducation-Seal.svgThe Department of Education (DOE) is asking colleges and universities to reconsider the use of criminal record inquiries on admissions applications in a new report released on Monday. The report, Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals, looks at how broad inquiries into applicants’ criminal histories may deter people with criminal records from applying for post-secondary educational opportunities.  It also suggests steps schools can take to ensure that their admission processes promote second chances for qualified applicants with criminal records, including banning the box on initial applications.

According to the report, “A survey of postsecondary institutions found that 66 percent of them collect CJI [criminal justice information] for all prospective students, and another 5 percent request CJI only for some students.”   The Common Application, a uniform application used by nearly 700 schools, has since 2006 asked whether a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, “or other crime.”   Some schools that use the Common Application allow applicants to opt out of disclosure, or delay criminal history inquiries until a preliminary admissions decision has been made.  Other schools use their own non-standard applications which may require disclosure of convictions, arrests, or mere allegations of misconduct.

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“Vermont sheriff risks his career by hiring a sex offender”

Vermonter Rich Cassidy, who chairs the CCRC Board, drew our attention to this extraordinary story of courage and compassion and plain good sense in the Green Mountain State.  Published last week in the Vermont weekly Seven Days, it tells the story of LaMoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux Jr.’s decision to take a chance on Timothy Szad, described as “a gifted carpenter and diligent worker” who is also “Lamoille County’s most notorious criminal.”

Here are a few introductory paragraphs to a story well worth reading in full.

In 2000, Szad stalked and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy in the southern Vermont woods. He went to jail for his crime and served the maximum sentence. But his punishment didn’t end when he got out, in 2013. His release was widely publicized, which generated something of a vigilante reaction. So he embarked on a cross-country journey in search of a new home. When no place would have him, he wound up back in Vermont — this time, in sleepy Hyde Park.

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Vermont becomes 8th state to ban the box in private employment

Cherry_Blossoms_and_Washington_MonumentStarting next summer, private as well as public employers in Vermont will no longer be permitted to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history on an initial employment application.  The change comes with the enactment of House Bill 261, which Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law yesterday.  With the law’s enactment, Vermont becomes just the eighth state to ban the box in private employment.  When CCRC Board Chair Rich Cassidy testified in favor of the provision before the Vermont legislature, he emphasized the importance of extending the prohibition to private employers.

In a signing ceremony, Governor Shumlin, who last year issued an executive order banning the box in public employment, had the following to say about the new law’s significance:

Too many Vermonters with criminal records are unable to successfully re-enter their communities due to lack of employment. Banning the box is all about breaking down barriers and giving those Vermonters who have paid their debt to society a fair chance at finding a good job. Nobody wins when Vermonters are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and incarceration.

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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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A plea to stop labeling people who have a criminal record

23virginia-web2-superJumbo (2)On April 22, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring civil rights to more than 200,000 individuals once convicted of felonies.  His courageous action is welcome and long overdue, and there are now only three states nationwide that permanently disenfranchise people based on a felony conviction.  The Governor’s press release promises new restoration orders on a regular monthly basis as additional individuals become eligible — the model followed in Iowa between 2005 and 2011, when convicted individuals were restored to the franchise under a similar executive process before it was discontinued by a Republican governor.

The one sour note on an otherwise happy occasion was the pervasive use of the word “felon” in print and media accounts to describe the beneficiaries of Governor McAuliffe’s action.  This ugly stigmatizing label has been broadly criticized as counterproductive to reintegration efforts, perpetuating stereotypes about people with a criminal record and encouraging discrimination against them.  While the Governor himself was careful with his language, not a single major newspaper reporting on his action could resist including the word in its headline. Read more

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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