High drama on the final day of the West Virginia legislative session produced a last minute compromise between House and Senate over SB76, the WV Second Chance for Employment Act. If the governor signs the bill into law, individuals convicted of non-violent felonies will be able to return to court after 10 years to have their convictions reduced to misdemeanors.
For several years the WV legislature has been considering how to improve employment opportunities for people with non-violent convictions, but the House and Senate had different ideas about how to do it. The Senate approach would have expanded the state’s expungement law, which now applies only to youthful misdemeanors, while the House preferred reducing nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors. As the seconds ticked toward midnight on April 8, the Senate agreed to accept the “forgiving” approach favored by the House, creating a new category of “reduced misdemeanor” that need not be reported on employment applications but will be reflected in background investigations.
“The barriers associated with having a criminal record do not just result in lifelong punishment for the parent with the record; they also can significantly limit a child’s life chances.” This is according to a new report by the Center for American Progress that examines the multi-generational effects of collateral consequences and the cycle of poverty and lost opportunity that those consequences perpetuate.
A parent’s criminal record can affect everything from a child’s emotional and physical well-being to future economic and educational outcomes. This is true even if the record was for a minor conviction that did not result in incarceration or, in some cases, an arrest that did not result in conviction at all.
Earlier this week, the Center for American Progress published a new report on the effect of the proliferation of criminal records in a nation of mass incarceration and criminalization. The report (“One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records”) explores the debilitating effect that a criminal record – including records for relatively minor offenses and for arrests that did not result in a conviction – can have on an individual’s access to housing, public assistance, education, family stability, and, in turn, their prospects for economic stability. The report’s authors are Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty and Prosperity Program, and Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (and of our own CCRC Board).
The report makes the point that the proliferation of criminal records, and the ease with which they can be accessed, harms not only individuals but society as a whole. The collateral consequences of a criminal record result in employment losses of $65 billion a year in GDP according to one study cited. Another study estimates that the national poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the accompanying criminal record crisis. The report notes that the war on drugs and the “criminalization of poverty” has resulted in a disproportionately high incidence of justice system contact in communities of color. Criminal records are thus both a cause of poverty and a consequence of poverty.