Since 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society. It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences. To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief. Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.
In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction. As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.
At least on paper, New York City has the strongest legal protections in the Nation for people with a criminal record, and for employers and others who are willing to give them a chance. The State’s vaunted certificates of relief remove mandatory legal disabilities and certify rehabilitation, and are available to any and all defendants. Governor Cuomo has shown his interest in restoration of rights by adopting a broad reform agenda, and the City’s ban-the-box law is among the broadest in the Nation. Both State and City have broad human rights laws intended to protect people with a criminal record from unwarranted discrimination. But with all this web of beneficent laws and rules and policies, some City agencies apparently still have not gotten the word.
In a decision handed down on July 12, a New York judge chastised the City’s Department of Education for refusing to license a woman as a school bus attendant based solely on a 2010 conviction for petty larceny, an action for which he found no basis in fact or law. Read more
Washington State courts are now authorized to grant certain individuals a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP), which prohibits many state licensing entities from disqualifying the holder solely based on his or her criminal history. A CROP also protects employers and housing providers from liability for negligent hiring and renting. The new certificate authority was created by HB 1533, which was signed by Governor Jay Inslee on March 31 and took effect last month.
In light of the trend toward giving courts responsibility for restoring legal rights and certifying rehabilitation, we took a closer look at who is eligible for this newest judicial certificate and the benefits it confers. Read more
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.
Lincoln Caplan, formerly of the editorial staff of The New York Times and now on the faculty at Yale Law School, has written a thoughtful piece about collateral consequences for the New Yorker. It points out why Governor McAuliffe’s order restoring the vote to Virginians with a criminal record doesn’t help them deal with the myriad of legal restrictions that deny them opportunities, or with what he calls “a relentless form of social stigma.” He concludes that relief measures like expungement, which are based on concealing the fact of conviction, may be less effective for felony-level crimes than more transparent measures like pardon or certificates of rehabilitation. He concludes that “Forgiving, when someone has earned it, gives an individual a fresh start and, just as important, it helps restore the idea of rehabilitation in American justice.”
A featured piece by a well-regarded journalist in such a sophisticated venue may do a lot to bring the problem of collateral consequences to the attention of people in a position to do something about them. We reprint portions of the article below. Read more
On April 7 a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard argument in United States v. Jane Doe (Jane Doe I). At issue in that case is whether U.S. District Judge John Gleeson acted within his authority when he expunged the conviction of a woman he had sentenced some 14 years earlier, based on his finding that her conviction had proved an insurmountable bar to the jobs in home health care for which she was qualified. Judge Gleeson directed that the government seal the records of Ms.Doe’s conviction, stating that he had sentenced her “to five years of probation supervision, not to a lifetime of unemployment.” The government appealed, arguing that a federal court has no authority to expunge or seal a conviction record, particularly the record of a valid conviction. Briefs in the case can be viewed here.
The panel did not appear persuaded by the government’s argument that the Supreme Court’s 1994 decision in Kokkonen v. Guardian Life, 511 U.S. 375 (1994)(refusing ancillary jurisdiction to enforce state law civil claims), meant that federal courts have no jurisdiction to expunge the record of a federal criminal case. The import of the government’s argument would be to overrule the Circuit’s leading expungement case from the 1970s, United States v. Schnitzer, 567 F.2d 536 (2d Cir. 1977), which held that federal courts have ancillary jurisdiction to grant expungement on equitable grounds in extraordinary circumstances. No judge on the panel expressed any support for overruling Schnitzer, and the government seemed reluctant to ask for it. At the same time, Schnitzer involved expungement of an arrest that the government did not pursue, not a valid conviction. That distinction seemed to have some appeal for one judge on the panel, who suggested that the holding in Schnitzer might not apply where conviction as opposed to arrest is at issue.
The New York Law Journal published an article over the weekend about the “novel relief” provided by the federal certificate of rehabilitation
issued by former Judge John Gleeson on March 7, just days before he stepped down from the bench. A reproduction of the certificate reveals its official appearance, complete with court seal and signatures of Judge Gleeson and the Chief U.S. Probation Officer.
The government has until April 7 to appeal – the very day its appeal of Judge Gleeson’s expungement order in his first Jane Doe case will be argued in the Second Circuit. The jurisdictional issues presented by the certificate order may be similar, if only because the certificate has some effect under state law. See N.Y. Correct. Law §§ 703(7), 752, both cited in Judge Gleeson’s opinion. It is likely that others similarly situated will apply for similar relief.
In his final week on the bench, in an opinion that may in time prove among his most influential, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson issued a “certificate of rehabilitation” to a woman he had sentenced 13 years before. See Jane Doe v. United States, No. 15-MC-1174 (E.D.N.Y., March 7, 2016) (Jane Doe II). The opinion breaks new ground in holding that federal courts have authority to mitigate the adverse effects of a criminal record short of complete expungement. Along the way, it confirms that a district court may use its inherent equitable powers to expunge convictions in “extreme circumstances,” an issue now on appeal to the Second Circuit in Judge Gleeson’s earlier expungement case. (Jane Doe I has been calendared for argument on April 7.) The opinion also finds a role for federal probation to play, including under New York State’s “robust” certificate system, which lifts mandatory state law bars to employment and other opportunities. It does all of this in a manner that should make it hard for the government to appeal, since “this court-issued relief aligns with efforts the Justice Department, the President, and Congress are already undertaking to help people in Doe’s position shed the burden imposed by a record of conviction and move forward with their lives.”
Joe Palazzolo at the Wall Street Journal blog noted that
More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia issue certificates to certain ex-offenders who have shown their days of crime are behind them, usually by remaining offense-free for a long stretch. . . . .
There is no equivalent federal certificate. So Judge Gleeson invented his own.
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.