California’s Proposition 47 and collateral consequences: Part II (reentry and restoration of rights)

Prop 47 and restoration of rights 

California’s recently enacted Proposition 47 fundamentally alters the landscape for a handful of lower-level felony offenses in California. As discussed by Jeffery Aaron in a previous post, Prop 47 reclassifies eight offenses as misdemeanors, including simple drug possession offenses and theft of less than $950. Anyone with a qualifying conviction, who also does not have a disqualifying prior, can now petition under Prop 47 to have a felony reclassifiedimages as a misdemeanor. The most significant and immediate relief will be for people who are incarcerated for qualifying low-level felonies and who are now eligible for resentencing and release. Public defender offices around the state are busy filing those petitions.

But, Prop 47 also allows two other populations to petition for reclassification of their qualifying felonies to misdemeanors: People who are under supervision but not incarcerated (on probation, parole, or post-release community supervision), and people whose sentences were completed long ago. This aspect of the new law presents good opportunities for tens of thousands of Californians, and not insignificant implementation challenges.

Simply by reclassifying certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Prop 47 can undo some of the most serious collateral consequences.  It’s clear from our experience providing reentry legal services to thousands of clients over the years that people with felony, as opposed to misdemeanor, convictions face increased barriers to employment, housing, and full and meaningful community reintegration and citizenship. For example, people with a felony conviction, even a decades-old low-level offense, can never serve on a jury in California. For many people, Prop 47 will reverse this lifetime disenfranchisement and move them one step closer to full civic engagement.

But unfortunately, many of the statuary and extra-legal barriers to successful reentry that block people convicted of felonies also apply to people with convictions for misdemeanors and criminal infractions. Consequently, Prop 47 relief alone is not a cure-all for collateral consequences, and for most people it’s not even the most important petition they can file to overcome the statutory disabilities they face.  The following section describes how Prop 47 relief interacts with other California relief mechanisms. Read more

Special interests succeed in watering down NJ Opportunity to Compete Act

In updating our book on New Jersey Collateral Consequences, J.C. Lore and I analyzed the provisions of New Jerseys’ new Opportunity to Compete Act, signed by Governor Christie in August and scheduled to become effective on March 15, 2015.   The Act applies a ban-the-box requirement to most public and private employers with more than 15 employees.  Having followed the bill through its passage in the House last spring, we were disappointed but not surprised to see that there were a number of employer-friendly amendments added to the Act just prior to final action in the Senate, with the result that there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the law actually accomplishes.  The important provisions omitted from the bill in the Senate, after lobbying by business and industry groups, includedstock-photo-usa-american-new-jersey-state-map-outline-with-grunge-effect-flag-insert-101188936

  • A prohibition on considering certain types of criminal histories, including conviction records after a certain number of years;
  • A private right of action against employers;
  • A definition of “initial employment application process” that permits inspection of criminal records at an earlier stage of the employment process;
  • A requirement that an employer make a good faith effort to discuss the applicants criminal record if it is of concern; and
  • A provision permitting negligent hiring suits in cases of “gross negligence.”

The bill as amended also preempted local ban-the-box laws, so that Newark’s more progressive ban-the-box ordinance appears to be on life support.

Attached are the enacted version of the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, as well as the “advance law” with brackets to show which language was removed in the Senate.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Much chastened, the author of the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource has made appropriate modifications in the New Jersey profile.  Note that similar last-minute amendments also substantially weakened the Delaware ban-the-box law, omitting similar provisions that would have prohibited employers from considering certain types of criminal records, notably convictions more than 10 years old.  In the same fashion, last-minute amendments to Vermont’s Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act restricted its coverage to less serious offenses, disappointing its sponsors.

The lesson for advocates is that they must be eternally vigilant for last-minute lobbying by special interests to dilute provisions of progressive legislation intended to give people with a criminal record a fairer chance in the workplace. – ML

More states rely on judicial expungement to avoid collateral consequences

Oklahoma is the most recent state to expand its expungement laws to make more people eligible fOklahomauntitledor record-clearing at an earlier date.  While the specific changes adopted by the Oklahoma legislature are relatively modest, involving reduced waiting periods and fewer disqualifying priors, they are significant as part of a national trend toward enlarging this type of “forgetting” relief for people with minor criminal records.  Details of Oklahoma’s law are available here.

Other states that have enacted new expungement laws or broadened existing ones in the past two years include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, and Tennessee.

Alabama’s new expungement law is the first record-closing law in that state and applies only to non-conviction records.  Arkansas and Minnesota broadened or consolidated existing expungement schemes that were already quite extensive.  The Indiana expungement scheme is entirely new and particularly comprehensive and progressive. (An analysis of the new law by its primary sponsor in the Indiana legislature will be posted in this space very soon.)  The effect of this type of “forgetting” relief varies widely from state to state, from complete destruction of records in states like Pennsylvania and Connecticut to more limited relief in Kansas and Indiana, where expunged records remain accessible to some employers as well as law enforcement.

The other type of individualized judicial relief from collateral consequences that is growing in popularity relies not on limiting public access to a person’s criminal record, but instead on Read more

California and Missouri restore food stamp eligibility for persons with felony convictions

In the past two weeks, both California and Missouri have passed laws allowing persons with a felony conviction to receive assistance under the federal TANF and SNAP programs. Federal law makes felony conviction grounds for ineligibility for food assistance programs, though federal law also allows state legislatures to opt out.  States including Alabama and Virginia have also considered opting out of the ban.

“In a lot of cases, the law enforcement community is supportive and feels this is a way to reduce recidivism,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a liberal D.C. think tank. Lower-Basch noted that other states, including Alabama and West Virginia, have also considered changing their policies. “We’re moving in the right direction.

–From The Huffington Post

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