Update: The National Employment Law Project has responded to these studies with a critique that we cover here.
Ban-the-box policies have become popular in recent years as a way of minimizing discrimination based on criminal history, and have been adopted by 24 states, the federal government, and a number private companies. But until recently there has been little hard data available about the general effect of those policies on employment opportunities. A number of recent studies have begun to fill that gap, and the results have been disturbing. The consensus seems to be that while banning the box does enhance the employment prospects of those with criminal records, it also encourages employers to fall back on more general racial stereotypes about criminal history without the “box” to confirm or deny it.
Most recently, a multi-year field study by Amanda Agan (Princeton University) and Sonja Starr (University of Michigan Law School) found that although banning the box made it more likely that individuals with criminal records would receive call-backs from prospective employers, it dramatically increased the gap in call-backs between black and white applicants. Employer responses to over 15,000 fictitious job applications sent to New York and New Jersey employers after ban-the-box policies took effect showed that black applicants received 45% fewer callbacks than white applicants, up from a 7% differential before the new policy took effect:
A new empirical study provides important evidence that “certificates of recovery/relief” can be effective in facilitating employment opportunities for people with a criminal record. Two University of South Carolina criminologists have concluded that employers in Ohio are willing to look beyond the criminal histories of job applicants who have been issued a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) from a state court. The study, which involved sending fictitious resumes to over 300 employers in the Columbus area, found that individuals with a felony drug conviction were more than three times as likely to receive a job interview or offer if they had received a CQE.
Although the study’s findings are described as preliminary, they fill an important gap in our knowledge of the effectiveness of Ohio’s CQE, and by inference of similar certificate schemes in other jurisdictions. Such schemes have to date been justified on the basis of assumptions and anecdotal evidence, with little hard data to vouch for their potency. The abstract follows:
Securing stable, quality employment is one of the most robust predictors of desistance from offending. Yet, obtaining gainful employment is difficult for ex-offenders due to the stigma of a criminal record. In recognition of employment-related barriers to re-entry, some state legislatures have created certificates of recovery/relief, which lift occupational licensing restrictions, limit employer liability for negligent hiring claims, and aim to ensure employment decisions about certificate-holders are made on a case-by-case basis. The present study presents the results of the first empirical test of the effectiveness of such certificates. Using an experimental correspondence design, fictitious applicants applied to entry-level jobs advertised in the Columbus metropolitan area using fabricated resumes with identical names, educational backgrounds, employment experience, and skills. Because the only differences between the resumes were the type of criminal record and the presence of a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE), the results isolate the specific impacts of criminal records and certificates on employment opportunities. Results indicate that, for job seekers with a one-year-old felony drug conviction, having a certificate of recovery increases the likelihood of receiving an interview invitation or job offer more than threefold. Importantly, certificate-holders and their counterparts with clean criminal backgrounds were equally likely to receive an interview invitation or job offer.
New York’s venerable certificate of relief scheme, which aims to mitigate the adverse collateral effects of criminal conviction, has served as a blueprint for certificate laws recently adopted in many other states. But are New York’s certificates actually effective at restoring rights and status? That is a question addressed in two new scholarly articles, both of which find that New York’s certificates are frequently inaccessible to their intended beneficiaries and misunderstood both by the officials tasked with issuing them and the employers and licensing boards that should be giving them effect.
Governor Cuomo recently directed reforms in the process for obtaining certificates in response to a report concluding that it has “historically been burdensome and slow.” These articles should be useful in that effort.
Both articles use interviews and anecdotal evidence to shed light on how certificate schemes operate in practice, providing insight into how government officials (including judges and probation officers), employers and convicted individuals interact with the laws (or fail to) in the real world. The increasing popularity of such well-intentioned laws represents an encouraging shift in legislative attitudes about second chances; but, as the articles make clear, they are only as good as their real-world application, which is more limited and less effective than many suppose.
Can 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
Slate has posted a new piece by Leon Neyfakh entitled “The Pardon Process Is Broken.” The piece points out that “presidents are granting clemency far less often than they once did,” and asks “Why?” It answers its own question by distilling an article by Margaret Love to be published in the Toledo Law Review, which argues that the low grant rate reflects overwhelmingly negative recommendations from the Justice Department. In response to Slate’s invitation, Justice had the following comments on Love’s proposal:
The mission of the Department of Justice is to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans. The work of the Office of the Pardon Attorney is an integral part of the Department’s mission.
These comments seem to concede the point that the Office of the Pardon Attorney has ceased to operate as an independent source of advice for the president in clemency matters, but instead has become an extension of the law enforcement agenda of the Department’s prosecutors. They evidence the key role the Justice Department has played in the atrophy of the constitutional pardon power.
Last week Sentencing Law & Policy highlighted a new article by CCRC director Margaret Love that examines the Justice Department’s historical role in administering the president’s pardon power. The article (“Justice Department Administration of the President’s Pardon Power: A Case Study in Institutional Conflict of Interest”) concludes that an institutional conflict of interest has made Justice a progressively less responsible and effective steward of the constitutional power, and urges the president to relocate the pardon program to the Executive Office of the President. The article, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the University of Toledo Law Review, can be downloaded here. Here is its abstract:
The president’s constitutional pardon power has been administered by the attorney general since before the Civil War, but this arrangement has never been adequately explained or justified. On its face it appears rife with conflict of institutional interests: how could the agency responsible for convicting people and putting them in prison also be tasked with forgiving them and setting them free? In spite of these apparently antithetical missions, the Justice Department managed the pardon program in a low-key and reliable manner for well over a century, staffing it with a handful of career lawyers operating on a shoestring budget, and churning out hundreds of favorable clemency recommendations each year for the president’s consideration. While there were occasionally controversial grants there were never scandalous ones, and the president was able to use his power to good effect in wartime and in peace.
It is only in the past two decades that questions have been raised about the integrity and functionality of the pardon process, focusing squarely on the agency and individuals standing as gatekeeper to the president’s power. President Obama’s decision in early 2014 to launch a large-scale clemency initiative, and the Justice Department’s unprecedented decision to rely upon a consortium of private organizations to manage it, make this a propitious time to consider whether the presidency is well-served by an arrangement making officials responsible for prosecuting crime the primary source of clemency advice.
This essay concludes that the culture and mission of the Justice Department have in recent years become determinedly and irreconcilably hostile to the beneficent purposes of the pardon power, and to its regular use by the president. The only way to deal with the institutional conflict that produced and perpetuates this situation is to transfer the pardon program to the president’s direct supervision in the Executive Office of the President. This move will have a variety of benefits, including facilitating the president’s ability to oversee the workings of the criminal justice system, for which he has a special responsibility under the Constitution. More specifically, it will introduce salutary political accountability to federal prosecutions through presidential oversight and potential revision. Finally, it will give the president control for the first time in decades over his own “benign prerogative.”
Nobody disputes that an enormous number of Americans have a criminal record. For people with a criminal past, a segment of the population that in some cases faces a laundry list of social and economic challenges, these records define – and limit – their ability to reintegrate into the community. This is a complex policy that has not received a fraction of the attention it deserves.
James Jacobs’ new book The Eternal Criminal Record (Harvard University Press, 2015) digs deeply into the issue with a nuanced analysis of how this system works. Importantly, the book provides a step-by-step navigation though the process of how and when records are created, how they are shared for and, eventually, what these data can be used for. What results is the most authoritative picture of how the pieces of the administrative universe of criminal history data fit together.
While criminal records can, and most often do, including information on past arrests, convictions and punishments, changes in the use and ownership of these files has changed the landscape. These modifications are not necessarily all bad – for example, computerization and standardization have made instantaneous checks and intrajurisdiction data sharing possible – but they create significant challenges. Some criminal data are part of the public domain, others are now owned by private companies. Modernization cannot eliminate the creation and replication of errors- and these mistakes have meaningful consequences.
A new paper by CCRC editor Margaret Love describes how the newly revised sentencing articles of the Model Penal Code manage collateral collateral consequences by integrating them into the sentencing process. The article, published in the Wisconsin Law Review, compares the new MPC provisions with the collateral consequences provisions of the original 1962 Code. Here is the abstract:
The debased legal status that results from a criminal conviction makes possible a regime of restrictions and exclusions that feels like punishment to those who are subject to it and looks like punishment to the community. Policy makers are beginning to understand that the goal of reintegrating criminal offenders into society is not well served by a legal system that makes them permanently ineligible for many of its benefits and opportunities and effectively marks them as social outcasts. Because courts have failed to address issues of severity and proportionality raised by punitive mandatory collateral penalties, and because legislatures have been unwilling to dial them back in any meaningful fashion, reformers have turned to the sentencing system to restore collateral consequences to an appropriate regulatory role.
One such reform proposal is the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code: Sentencing (MPC), which integrates collateral consequences into a sentencing system that gives the court rather than the legislature responsibility for shaping and managing criminal punishment in particular cases. Just as the court decides what sentence it will impose within a statutory range, the court also decides which mandatory collateral penalties will apply and for how long. This gives sentencing courts new tools to further the rehabilitative goals of sentencing, and at the same time it enables them to avert issues of proportionality an
Collateral Consequences of Conviction in Greece
by Dimitra Blitsa
1. Access to Greek Criminal Records
In Greece, a criminal record is created for every adult person who has been irrevocably convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony (i.e. by a decision not subject to an appeal before the Supreme Court). Unlike in the U.S. but consistent with continental European countries, a Greek criminal record does not contain arrest information. Individual criminal history records are considered “sensitive personal data.” Disclosure and access is restricted to protect the convicted person’s privacy and to promote rehabilitation. Although Greek court proceedings are open to the public, court records are not available for public inspection.