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

The “president’s idle executive power” and collateral consequences

In their Washington Post op ed on the President’s neglect of his pardon power posted earlier on this site, Rachel Barkow and Mark Osler are critical of the Justice Department’s us-department-of-justice-squarelogobureaucratic process for processing applications for executive clemency, which they argue takes a very long time and yields very little.  (The New York Times editorialized last year in a similar vein about how DOJ has effectively sidelined the president’s power as a tool for justice for more than 20 years.)  Barkow and Osler ask why Justice considered it necessary or wise to farm out the processing of thousands of petitions from federal prisoners to a private consortium called Clemency Project 2014, rather than reform the official process:  “such a short-term program does nothing to fix the problematic regular clemency process that will survive this administration unless action is taken.”

Barkow and Osler focus on sentence commutations, and not on the other common type of clemency grant: a full pardon, typically sought by those who have fully served their court-imposed sentences, to avoid or mitigate collateral consequences.  In addition to the thousands of prisoner petitions awaiting consideration by DOJ’s Pardon Attorney, there are now more than 800 petitions for full pardon pending in the Justice Department.  Most of these petitions were filed by individuals who completed their court-imposed sentences long ago but remain burdened by legal restrictions and social stigma.  A majority of the pending petitions were filed years ago and have long since been fully investigated.  What can be holding things up?

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Despite pardoning hundreds, out-going Illinois governor may leave significant clemency backlog

When disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was removed from office in 2009, he left behind more than the ugly controversy that would eventually lead to a 14-year federal prison sentence: he also left behind a 7-year backlog of over 2,500 clemency recommendations from the state’s Prisoner Review Board (“PRB”).   Blago’s successor Pat Quinn declared in April 2009 his intention of “erasing the shameful logjam of cases in a methodical matter and with all deliberate speed,” stating that “Justice delayed is justice denied.”  Since then, Governor Quinn has disposed of a total of 3,358 clemency petitions, granting more than a third of them.  Of the 1,239 persons pardoned, most have also had their records expunged.

However, despite his admirable efforts to restore pat+quinn1regularity to Illinois pardoning, it appears that Quinn may leave his successor almost as large a backlog as he himself inherited.  This is because, during  his six years in office, the PRB has forwarded over 3,000 additional recommendations to the governor’s desk, most of which have not been decided.  Unless Quinn somehow finds a way to dispose of this still-large backlog of cases between now and January, Blagojevich’s irresponsible neglect of his pardoning responsibilities will have created a kink in the administration of the pardon power in Illinois that may not be worked out for years to come.

If long waits have become the new normal for pardon applicants in Illinois, those seeking relief from collateral consequences would do well to consider the alternatives available under state law.  For example, Illinois courts are authorized to grant Certificates of Relief from Disabilities, which avoid numerous licensing restrictions and shield employers from negligent hiring liability; and, Certificates of Good Conduct, which relieve mandatory bars to employment and other opportunities and certify the recipient’s rehabilitation.  Courts are also authorized to seal and expunge records in certain cases.

You can read about the latest round of Governor Quinn’s pardons in this Chicago Tribune article.  More information about relief and restoration of rights in Illinois can be found in the NACDL Restoration of Rights resource here.

UPDATE:  In his final days in office, Governor Quinn pardoned more than 300 people, and denied about 1000 petitions. He left about 2000 petitions for his successor to act on.  Let us hope he has a similarly progressive view of pardoning.

New report describes public health consequences of incarceration

A new report from the Vera Institute, On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration, highlights the “contagious” health effects of incarceration on the already unstable communities to which most of the 700,000 inmates released from prison each year will return.  The report argues that high rates of incarceration among residents in these communities are “one of the major contributors to poor health in communities,” and that this has “further contributed to diminished educational opportunities, fractured family structures, stagnated economic mobility, limited housing options, and restricted access to essential social entitlements.”  In “a political landscape ripe for reform” of these cascading collateral consequences of conviction, the report finds significant promise in the Affordable Care Act:

The passage of the ACA in 2010 was a watershed moment in U.S. history. State and local governments are increasingly realizing the opportunities created by the ACA to develop partnerships between health and justice systems that simultaneously abate health disparities and enhance public safety. A number of the legislation’s key provisions—the expansion of Medicaid, increased coverage and parity for mental health and substance use services, and incentives for creating innovative service delivery models for populations with complex health needs—provide new funding streams and tools for policymakers to strengthen existing programs and develop solutions to reduce mass incarceration.90 The ACA creates critical opportunities for states, local governments, and healthcare stakeholders to greatly expand the capacity of their community health systems to better meet the needs of underserved populations, curb the flow of medically-underserved populations into jails and prisons, pursue collaborative programming to plug service gaps between health and justice systems, and ensure that people are able to receive services in the community that are essential for health. …

“The president’s idle executive power: pardoning”

As the presidential pardon of everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving galliformes makes front-page news across the country (a tradition that the many human clemency petitioners who have spent years awaiting action must struggle to find the whimsy in), two law professors take the federal clemency system to task in a new Washington Post opinion piece.  In the piece, professors Rachel E. Barkow (NYU) and Mark Osler (University of St. Thomas) argue that the long and multi-tiered review process for federal clemency petitions could be significantly improved if the president would minimize the Justice Department’s involvement in the process while shifting responsibility to a bi-partisan review commission.  From the article:

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Ohio’s on-line inventory of collateral consequences – a useful tool for defense lawyers

Kelley Williams-Bolar was a single mother in Akron Ohio, a teacher’s aide who was studying to become a teacher herself.  Her story made headlines in 2011, when she was accused of misusing her father’s home address to enroll her two young daughters in a public school they were not entitled to attend.  After her own home was burglarized, Kelley had enrolled the girls in their grandfather’s school district, so they could spend each afternoon after school safely at their grandfather’s house.  To make this possible she had signed a “grandparent affidavit” saying that the girls lived with their grandfather.  The new school district ultimately rejected the affidavit, and she withdrew the girls from tohio_sealheir new school at the end of the school year.

Ohio’s “grandparent affidavit” form contains a printed warning, advising that anyone who submits a false affidavit can be charged with “Falsification, a first degree misdemeanor.”  But that warning gave no hint of what would actually happen to Kelley.  Eighteen months after her daughters left the new school, the district attorney charged Kelley with felony Grand Theft, claiming she had “stolen” tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tuition for her children.

Particularly given Kelley’s career aspiration to be a teacher, her defense lawyer could have made good use of a new online resource called CIVICC (Civil Impacts of Criminal Convictions), a computerized compendium of state collateral consequences linked to the crimes that trigger them.  (Kelley’s felony conviction was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor by Governor John Kasich, high level intervention that cannot be counted on to substitute for effective advocacy.)

At the CIVICC website, counsel in a case like Kelley’s could run a quick search using the keyword “theft,” and learn right away that conviction on the Grand Theft charge would expose her to 509 possible collateral consequences (“civil impacts”) under Ohio law, burdens she would bear long after her criminal sentence was complete.

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Reduced charge more harmful than original?

An earlier post highlighted the dilemma that some young Wisconsin defendants face because of the narrow scope of the law on sealing conviction records.  The court can seal the record of certain convictions, but the record of dismissed charges remains accessible to the public in a searchable online database.  Therefore, the dismissal can increase the potential for prospective employers to learn of an applicant’s legal troubles.

Now the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has held that the court may not seal the record of a nSeal-of-Wisconsinon-criminal violation.  Kenosha County v. Frett, 2014AP6 (Wis. Ct. App. Nov. 19, 2014).  The appellate court reviewed the statutory language and concluded that references to 1) the maximum term of imprisonment for sealable offenses; 2) “completion of the sentence”; and 3) “certificate of discharge” from the “detaining or probationary authority” showed that the procedure applies only to criminal convictions.

For a young woman cited in 2012 in Kenosha County for underage drinking, now a college student in New York, the decision means that the record of her conviction for the amended charge of littering remains publicly accessible.  If she had been convicted of drug possession or fraud she might have been able to close the book on this episode.

Although the Frett case did not involve the reduction of criminal charges, the decision means that some defendants might prefer to have a sealed criminal conviction than to have a public record of a reduced, non-criminal charge (the public record of the reduced charge also shows the original charges).

The Frett decision may be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and policymakers are considering statutory amendments to expand judicial authority to seal records.  For now, however, non-criminal dispositions and dismissals are publicly accessible in situations in which some criminal convictions can be sealed.

New reports evaluate national policy on juvenile record confidentiality

This month the Juvenile Law Center released an impressive pair of reports evaluating national policy on public access to juvenile criminal records. The first report, Juvenile Records: A National Review of State Laws on Confidentiality, Sealing and Expungement, provides a national overview of state laws, and proposes standards to mitigate exposure to collateral consequences as a result of a juvenile record.  150xNxJLC.jpg.pagespeed.ic.w0Eyk4Lh56The report also makes recommendations for policy-makers, courts, defense attorneys, and youth-serving agencies. Supplementing the national overview are fact sheets on the law in each state, including the availability and effect of expungement or sealing, and an overview of the process for obtaining such relief. (These fact sheets can be found by clicking on the relevant state on the map here).

A second complementary report, Failed Policies, Forfeited Futures: A Nationwide Scorecard on Juvenile Records, scores each state on the degree to which it meets the Center’s ideal standards for juvenile record protection. The Center based its evaluation of the states on its “core principles for record protection” including:

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Canada stiffens policy on sealing of criminal records – but it still looks pretty liberal from here

A couple of news items about an increase in clemency applications in Canada made me curious to learn more about how restoration of rights works in our Northern neighbor.

Canada has long had a policy of virtually automatic sealing of criminal records through what is known as a “record suspension” (before 2012, called a “pardon”).  The Criminal Records Act (CRA) makes record suspension available from the Parole Board of Canada for any offense except sex crimes involving children, and to any individual except those convicted of multiple serious crimes, after waiting periods of five years from completion of sentence for “summary” offenses and 10 years for “indictable” offenses.  (Prior to 2012 the waiting periods were three and five years.)  Non-conviction records may be purged sooner.

Once a record has been suspended, all information pertaining to convictions is taken out of the Canadian Police Information Centre and may not be disclosed without permission from the Minister of Public Safety.  The CRA states that no employment application form within the federal public service may ask any question that would require an applicant to disclose a conviction.  It is unlawful under Section 3 of the Canadian Human Rights Act to discriminate in employment or housing or union membership against anyone based upon “an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”

In 2012-13 the PBC ordered more than 6600 pardons and records suspensions, 97% of all applications received.  (According to the PBC website, since 1970 more than 460,000 Canadians have received pardons and record suspensions. “96 percent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon/record suspension recipients remain crime-free in the community.”)

The 2012 amendment of the CRA to extend the eligibility waiting periods has resulted in an increase in applications for the extraordinary remedy of “clemency,” which has higher standards but no eligibility waiting period.  Clemency, formally known as the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy” (RPM), may be granted in federal cases by the Governor General or the Governor in Council (i.e. Federal Cabinet), and applications are staffed by the PBC.   Clemency is intended “only for rare cases in which considerations of justice, humanity and compassion override the normal administration of justice.” All other avenues of relief must have been exhausted, and there must be must be “clear and strong evidence of injustice or undue hardship.”  In contrast to the thousands of ordinary records suspensions granted each year in Canada, there are only a handful of these extraordinary clemency grants.  In 2012 there were 52 RPM applications and only 12 grants.

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The Democrat who would be the “Reentry President”: James Webb

This week’s New Yorker features an article by Ryan Lizza about potential democratic candidates.  One, James Webb, former U.S. Senator from Virginia, has a history of interest in prisons and reentry of people with convictions.  The article states:

Jim Webb speaks about his bill about Iran in Washington“In the Senate, he pushed for creating a national commission that would study the American prison system, and he convened hearings on the economic consequences of mass incarceration. He says he even hired three staffers who had criminal records. ‘If you have been in prison, God help you if you want to really rebuild your life,’ Webb told me. ‘We’ve got seven million people somehow involved in the system right now, and they need a structured way to reënter society and be productive again.’ He didn’t mention it, but he is aware that the prison population in the U.S. exploded after the Clinton Administration signed tough new sentencing laws.”

Of course, reentry is not necessarily a partisan issue; President George W. Bush also cared about it, calling America “the land of second chance” in his 2004 State of the Union address, and signing into law the Second Chance Act.  It will be interesting to see if prison spending and reentry become issues in the primaries or the general election.

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