Long waits for expungement frustrate public safety purposes

whiteegret2Recently, in commenting on a new expungement scheme enacted by the Louisiana legislature, we noted the disconnect between the stated reentry-related purposes of the law and its lengthy eligibility waiting periods.  If people have to log many years of law-abiding conduct before they can even apply for this relief, it is not likely to be of much help to people returning home from prison.  Were Louisiana lawmakers unaware that the new expungement law would be unlikely to serve its stated purposes, or did they have some reason for advertising the new law in terms they knew were inapt.

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SBA to relax rules on loans to people under supervision

600px-US-SmallBusinessAdmin-Seal.svgIn December 2014, Amy Solomon, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the Justice Department, testified before the U.S. Senate Addiction Forum about the review of collateral consequences federal agencies had been conducting under the auspices of the Federal Reentry Council.  She reported that most of the agencies participating in the review had concluded their collateral consequences were “appropriately tailored for their purposes.”  However, she also reported that Small Business Administration (SBA) had proposed amendments to its regulations to allow people on probation or parole to qualify for loans from its microloan program.  (The change, proposed almost a year ago, has still not become final.)

We decided to take a look at the SBA’s proposed rule change, and at the SBA regulatory scheme more generally, to see how having a criminal record affects small business eligibility for government-backed loans. Read more

Good news, bad news: New York’s drug law reform and collateral consequences

index,newyorjThe Vera Institute has issued a first-rate assessment of the effect of the Rockefeller drug law reforms in New York City.  See End of an Era?  The Impact of Drug Law Reform in New York City.   The report found that as a result of the reforms far more people were diverted out of the justice system and into treatment, thus avoiding conviction and the attendant collateral consequences.  On the other hand, for those not diverted, the report found that the repeal of mandatory minimums led prosecutors to look for other ways to leverage plea bargains, leading to more felony convictions and more severe collateral consequences than under the old laws.  Sentencing reformers in other jurisdictions should take note.

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Is pardon making a comeback? Probably not, but law reform may be

A recent issue of Governing Magazine reports that pardoning is “making a comeback” after decades of neglect.  It would be nice if it were true.

h2_31.132.34But the evidence of comeback is thin. Almost all of the jurisdictions where pardoning is thriving today are the same ones where it was thriving a decade ago.  In a dozen states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, pardon has never been neglected, much less abandoned by responsible officials. In these jurisdictions and a handful of others, pardon has deep roots in the justice system and is supported by accountable institutions of government.

It is certainly true that Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jerry Brown of California have made generous use of the power of their office after years in which the pardon power in their states languished unused.  Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is a newcomer to the small group of governors who evidently feel that pardoning is a responsibility of office.  All three are to be commended for it.  But three swallows do not make a summer.

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Michigan takes baby steps on criminal justice reform

Michigan spends one in five tax dollars on corrections so the state continues to explore strategies to safely reduce these costs.  In its most recent session, the legislature fishconsidered bold criminal justice reforms, but strenuous last minute objections from the Attorney General succeeded in halting much of the reform agenda. In the end, only a few reforms were implemented and most of them were passed in watered-down form.

The new laws include (1) the establishment of a Criminal Justice Policy Commission; (2) narrow expansion of set-aside eligibility to victims of human trafficking; and (3) authorization for Certificates of Employability for prisoners who complete certain in-prison training programs.  A more ambitious (though still narrow) expansion of the set-aside law is currently on the Governor’s desk for signature.  These “baby steps” leave lots of room for improvement, but constitute a blueprint for future reform efforts.

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Minnesota’s sweeping new expungement law takes effect

1932MinnesotaSnowScene640Beginning January 1st, 2015, many Minnesotans will have a meaningful shot at a second chance through criminal records expungement. For decades, many individuals have relied upon (and often languished under) a court’s inherent authority to expunge (or seal) criminal records, but recent Minnesota Supreme Court decisions effectively eviscerated that remedy. Without a legislative act expressly granting judicial authority to seal records held within executive branch agencies, the majority of petitioners were granted orders sealing only court records—leaving numerous publicly accessible criminal records untouched.

The new law, passed with bipartisan support and building upon momentum gained with last year’s Ban the Box for private employers, changes that.   It provides new authority for expunging (sealing) both criminal and juvenile records held by executive branch agencies; requires data mining companies to observe expungements, protects employers and landlords hiring and renting to individuals with expunged records, addresses victimization and housing evictions, and clarifies a number of procedural issues.  The standard for granting expungement remains that under current law, requiring the court to balance private and public interests.

While by no means a silver bullet, this new legislation will help a significant number of Minnesotans currently locked out of employment, housing, licensure, education, and countless other of life opportunities, by providing a true opportunity for a second chance.

Here is an explanation of the new law’s specific provisions. 

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Clean slate remedies help overcome collateral consequences

Eliza Hersh, director of the Clean Slate Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center and one of CCRC’s contributing authors, has co-authored a most persuasive op ed in the LA Times, which we are pleased to reprint here in full.  

Should a shoplifting conviction be an indelible 1016829040562382727EwjStKwcscarlet letter? Not in California

What exactly is the appropriate punishment for someone who commits a low-level, nonviolent crime? Should a conviction for minor drug possession, shoplifting or writing a bad check result in a lifetime of stigma and denied opportunities, or do people with criminal records deserve a second chance?

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“Decades-long Arrest Wave Vexes Employers”

The Wall Street Journal has been running a well-researched series by Gary Fields and John Emschwiller on the consequences of mass conviction.  The installment last week (“Decades-long arrest wave vexes employers”) describes the dilemma facing employers caught between legal limitations on who they can hire and legal obligations to be fair. Hiring the most capable workers seems a luxury most employers can’t afford.

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Indiana’s new expungement law the product of “many, many compromises”

In May of 2013, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law what is possibly the most comprehensive and forward-looking restoration of rights statute ever enacted in this country.  Under the new law, courts are empowered to “expunge” most criminal records, after waiting periods keyed to the seriousness of the offense.  The effect of an expungement order varies to some extent according to the nature of the crime, but its core concept is to restore rights and eliminate discrimination based on criminal record in the workplace and elsewhere.  This new law has already resulted in relief for hundreds of individuals, due in large part to the proactive approach of the state courts in facilitating pro se representation.

We r150px-On_the_Banks_of_the_Wabash,_Far_Away,_sheet_music_cover_with_Bessie_Davis,_Paul_Dresser,_1897ecently had a chance to talk to the person primarily responsible for shepherding this law through the Indiana legislature, and his experience should be instructive to reform advocates in other states.  Jud McMillin, a conservative former prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, might once have been regarded as a rather unusual champion of this unique and progressive legislation.  But in an age of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, apparently anything can happen.   Read more

“Street Vendors, Taxicabs, and Exclusion Zones: The Impact of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions at the Local Level”

Amy Meek just sent us her colorfully titled and important new article recently published in the Ohio State Law Journal, about the collateral consequences imposed by municipal and county ordinances.  As far as I know, this is the first serious effort to address consideration of conviction in connection with opportunities and benefits controlled at the local level.  As the abstract below suggests, many types of entrepreneurial opportunities likely to be attractive to people with a criminal record are subject to governmental regulation below the state level. Because these local ordinances and regulations are rarely included in collections of state collateral consequences, they are invisible to defendants and unavailable to their counsel and the court at the time of plea or sentencing.  Only in a few large municipalities, notably New York City, are criminal justice practitioners even aware of this locally created and administered system of restrictions and exclusions.  For example, with the exception of the District of Columbia, municipal and county rules and regulations are not included in the NIJ-funded National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC). The potential for interaction between state and local authorities is a particularly intriguing subject that Professor Meek explores in her recommendations for legislative reform.

Here is the abstract:

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