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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NYT says NO to “the other f-word,” and YES to Gov. McAuliffe

08sun1-master768The New York Times has two great Sunday editorials on issues relating to collateral consequences.  One deals with the issue of labeling people with a criminal record, of special concern when headline writers seem unable to resist using what Bill Keller at the Marshall Project recently called “the other F-word.”  The editorial points out that ugly demeaning labels like “convict” and “felon” are “an unfair life sentence.”  Let us hope the message reaches newsrooms across the country, and that journalists (especially headline writers) will find another way of describing people with a criminal record.

The Times also has another very fine editorial on Virginia Governor McAuliffe’s restoration of the vote to more than 200,000 individuals, pointing out that his authority under the Virginia Constitution is indisputable.

A very good day for the editorial staff of the Gray Lady, whose editorial page is setting an example of enlightened thinking about criminal law issues – notably including the collateral consequences of conviction.

Justice Department (or part of it) will no longer use the “f-word”

The Washington Post has published an op ed by a top Justice Department official responsible for grants and contracts announcing that her agency* will no longer use labels like “felon” and “offender” to describe people who have a criminal record.  Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, who heads the Office of Justice Programs, said that she had recently issued “an agency-wide policy directing our employees to consider how the language we use affects reentry success.”

I have come to believe that we have a responsibility to reduce not only the physical but also the psychological barriers to reintegration.  The labels we affix to those who have served time can drain their sense of self-worth and perpetuate a cycle of crime, the very thing reentry programs are designed to prevent.

This is terrific news, and comes on the heels of a thoughtful editorial by Bill Keller of The Marshall Project proposing that journalists ought to make an effort to avoid disparaging language:

[W]ords that not long ago were used without qualms may come to be regarded as demeaning: “colored,” “illegals.”  “Felon,” which makes the person synonymous with the crime, is such a word. Likewise “convict.”  I’m less troubled by words that describe a temporary status without the suggestion of irredeemable wickedness — “inmate” and “prisoner” and “ex-offender” — but ask me again a year from now.

Ms. Mason’s piece explained further:

This new policy statement replaces unnecessarily disparaging labels with terms like “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated,” decoupling past actions from the person being described and anticipating the contributions we expect them to make when they return.  We will be using the new terminology in speeches, solicitations, website content, and social media posts, and I am hopeful that other agencies and organizations will consider doing the same.

Interestingly, the Post editor either didn’t read Ms. Mason’s piece or didn’t agree with it, since the paragraph introducing it used the word “convict” twice.  I guess it just takes time.

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*A note at the bottom of the op ed explains that Ms. Mason’s new policy applies only to OJP and not to the Justice Department as a whole.

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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A wide-ranging look at sex offender registration in PA and beyond

The Cumberland County (Pennsylvania) Sentinel recently published a series of articles by Joshua Vaughn that examine the operation and effect of sex offender registration laws from a variety of perspectives. We summarize the articles with links to the Sentinel’s website.


Finding statistics to fit a narrative

Original article

Vaughn traces the “frightening and high risk of recidivism” for untreated sex offenders that Justice Kennedy used to support the Supreme Court’s holdings in McKune v. Lile (2002) and Smith v. Doe (2003) to an unsourced “anecdotal quip” in a 1986 article from Psychology Today suggesting sex offender recidivism rates as high as 80%.  That figure found its way into a Justice Department practitioner’s guide for treating incarcerated sex offenders, which in turn was cited by the Solicitor General’s amicus brief in McKune. Vaughn, asking how such a questionable statistic could turn out to be a “linchpin fact” in two extremely influential Supreme Court cases, proposes that the Court relied on the Solicitor General, who in turn relied on the practice guide without doing his own research.

Vaughn reports that the Justice Department “now states on its website that the rate at which released sexual offenders are rearrested for new sexual offenses is as low as 3 to 10 percent,” evidently referring to a report of the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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Reentry efforts undermined by collateral consequences

roadblockEditor’s note: Earlier this week Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that The Justice Department has christened the week of April 24-30 “National Reentry Week.”  In the announcement, the Attorney General highlighted  “the major steps [taken by the Obama administration] to make our criminal justice system more fair, more efficient, and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities.”  The announcement prompted Art Beeler, a former warden in the federal correctional system and current member of the North Carolina Sentencing Commission, to consider the place that collateral consequences ought to have in our national dialog about reentry, recidivism, and public safety.


As a warden with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for more than twenty years, I know that successful evidence-based reentry programs are essential if we are going to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.  So it was with great interest that I read U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s letter celebrating reentry week.  I applaud the growing focus on reentry programming, which is essential, but I believe that we must acknowledge that we will never achieve the goal of reintegrating those convicted of crimes back into society without fully addressing the problem posed by collateral consequences.  The federal government has already taken some steps a to reevaluate collateral consequences imposed by federal regulations, as the AG notes in her letter, but successful reentry efforts demand a full reevaluation of the intent and effect of collateral consequences at both the federal and state level.

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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

50-state guide to expungement and sealing laws

The 50-state chart of judicial relief mechanisms from the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource, which is also posted on this site, is a comprehensive survey of all authorities for judicial relief in the states and federal system. We wanted to bring it to our readers’ attention in light of the new federal interest in helping individuals with a criminal record overcome barriers to employment and licensing through clearing their records.

The National Clean Slate Clearinghouse, recently announced as part of President Obama’s reentry initiative, will “provide technical assistance to local legal aid programs, public defender offices, and reentry service providers to build capacity for legal services needed to help with record-cleaning, expungement, and related civil legal services.” This joint project of the Labor and Justice Departments will doubtless make it a first priority to survey the laws providing judicial and other relief in different states, to determine what sort of assistance lawyers will need to neutralize the adverse employment consequences of conviction, though the courts or otherwise.  We hope these resources will prove useful in that effort.

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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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Interstate restoration of rights

State_border_sign_on_NY_17Can people restored to full legal status in one state expect their status to be recognized if they move to another state, just as marriage is generally given interstate recognition?  Can a person convicted in one state qualify for restoration of rights in another? What about a federal offender seeking relief under state law, or a state offender seeking relief from federal collateral consequences?  Is there a role for Congress to play in ensuring fair treatment of people with a criminal record as they move around the country?  These questions are increasingly important both as a practical and theoretical matter, as collateral consequences multiply and begin to limit Americans’ right to travel.

So it is timely that Wayne Logan, a Florida State University law professor widely known for his work on sex offender registration and other collateral consequences, has published a fascinating new treatment of the issue titled ‘When Mercy Seasons Justice’: Interstate Recognition of Ex-Offender Rights.  The article, which appears in the UC Davis Law Review, examines the impact of federalism on the ability to obtain true relief from the collateral consequences of conviction in a mobile society.  It is an issue that is widely overlooked, and the article reminds us that a comprehensive discussion about the impact of collateral consequences must take into account their inter-jurisdictional effects. The true impact of collateral consequences and relief mechanisms must be measured by the interplay of laws between jurisdictions as well as by the interplay of laws within them. Read more

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