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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Challenge to “Scarlet Letter” travel law moves forward

passportLast week a federal judge heard the first arguments in a lawsuit challenging certain provisions of the recently-enacted International Megan’s Law (IML),* including one mandating that the passport of any American required to register for a sex offense involving a minor be marked in “a conspicuous location” with a “unique identifier” of their sex offender status.  Other challenged provisions of the law authorize the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to notify destination nations of forthcoming visits from those individuals. On Wednesday the court heard a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block enforcement of the challenged provisions of the law pending the suit’s final outcome. See Doe v. Kerry, Case 3:16-cv-00654 (N.D. Ca.).

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Judge Gleeson stepping down from the bench

The New York Daily News reports that Federal District Judge John Gleeson is stepping down from the bench to practice law. Judge Gleeson may be best known to the public for his prosecution of mob boss John Gotti more than two decades ago, but while on the bench he has been a champion for sentencing reform, criticizing long mandatory sentences and coercive prosecutorial tactics.  More recently he has stepped into the debate over the punitive impact of collateral consequences, expunging the record of a woman he had sentenced 13 years before. The article notes that

Federal prosecutors are also fighting him tooth and nail on a decision to expunge the criminal record of a Brooklyn woman who convinced the judge that she was trying to turn her life around but could not find a good job because of a fraud conviction years ago.

The government has appealed Judge Gleeson’s expungement order, and CCRC recently filed an amicus brief in the Second Circuit in the case of U.S. v. Jane Doe.

Look for more in this space on Judge Gleeson’s resignation.

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